Goa Election 2022 Exclusive: 'Goans will get a new Congress'
Defectors leaving the Congress is a blessing in disguise as the party will now be able to project new faces, says Congress Goa incharge Dinesh Gundu Rao in an exclusive interview with Asianet Newsable.
In 2017, the Congress emerged as the single largest party in Goa but was still unable to form a government. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, Congress was strategising a comeback in 2022. However, the party's efforts suffered a significant setback when 15 out of 17 MLAs quit in one go. And then, there is the AAP-TMC factor that poses a new challenge to the Congress. Asianet Newsable's Yacoob spoke to the party's Goa In-charge, Dinesh Gundu Rao, to understand the Congress strategy in the run-up to Goa Election 2022. Read on
When you took over as AICC in-charge for Goa, you were confident about the party's prospects in the state. However, the Congress house seems to be on fire at the moment. How did things go downhill?
We are not in the downhill. We are still active, and we have already announced candidates, and the second list will be announced shortly. We are doing our work. But some new factors have emerged (TMC and AAP) which have come with 'hidden' (pauses for a moment) -- no, not even hidden -- it is an open agenda to weaken the Congress and indirectly help the BJP. So they are creating a lot of confusion. They are trying to use money power, and all that to disturb the Congress votes. But ultimately, the people of Goa are very astute, and they understand what is happening. We will be launching some campaigns after New Year and going to the people. We are confident that the people of Goa will stand by us, and we will get the absolute majority. There is no doubt about that.
A year ago, the Congress party held a clear advantage over the BJP. Today, you have lost 15 out of 17 MLAs in the state. How does Congress intend to claw back and restructure the party ahead of the 2022 elections?
We have clearly said that the defectors who have gone will not be taken back. Those people who have gone are gone. It is actually good for the party that they (defectors) have left. A lot of new leaders have emerged in those constituencies. You will see many new people contesting elections this time; fresh people with credible backgrounds who have done work, young people. These people (defectors) leaving the party is a blessing in disguise. It will help us because we can give a 'fresh Congress' to people. All these people who defected have gone to the BJP. I do not know what the BJP intends to do with them or whether it will give them tickets or not to contest. Some people have gone to TMC, and they have gone for their selfish gains, either for some financial gains or some political post, they have gone. In a way, it is good for us, and it will work to our advantage. We can give a 'new Congress' to Goa; a 'fresh Congress to Goa'.
I do not think it will be a problem for us and the anti-incumbency factor in BJP is very high. The people of Goa are fed up with BJP. There is misrule, corruption, and so many scandals. Sex scandal, job scandal, there is a Covid scandal -- everything is a scandal. They are so corrupt and open and blatant about it. Only Congress is the main opposition party, and if they (Goans) want a stable government, it is only Congress. So I am not perturbed about these developments.
To be point-blank, did the Congress High Command fail to gauge the simmering discontent? Did Congress try to keep its flock in place in Goa?
See, such people succumb when someone is going because they are getting a Rajya Sabha seat or being offered a massive amount of money. Good that such people are going before the election. For us, the issue (defection) would have arisen after the election. It is good that rubbish and people like these are leaving. It is good for us, and it also exposes them. What kind of politics is TMC doing? What is their intention? Why have they come to Goa? Have they come to defeat BJP or help BJP? All these questions are being posed. Today, there is a systematic attack by the BJP on Congress directly and indirectly. They are using big corporate companies and agencies to attack the Congress. They use money power and everything else to attack us. But the Congress will not buckle under pressure; we have not lost our fighting spirit. We are very much fighting it out. Our leaders, Digambar Kamat, Girish Chodankar, Alex Sequeira, Ramakant Khalap, Pratapsingh Rane, all of us are together, and we will fight it out.
Alexio Reginaldo, your party's former working president, said the party is weak and considers Mamata Banerjee's TMC stronger? How do you respond to that?
This person (Alexio Reginaldo), let us talk less about him. The people of Curtorim will teach him a lesson. He was talking to us. He was talking to BJP and also with the TMC. He was lying to us and fooling us. What kind of a politician is he? He has no ideology. He was willing to sell himself with the highest bidder. He is a product that has sold himself to the highest bidder. Money became more important for him than anything else. We were having doubts about his winnability. Anyway, that is another issue which the election will decide. But I think people are willing to sell themselves and try to make money through these ways (defection). As I said earlier, it is good (for Congress to get rid of defectors). Being in Congress, he goes out and meets BJP leaders in the middle of the night. What kind of a person will do that?. It shows what kind of a person he is. Curtorim and the entire Goa have seen this, and people will expose him.
Will the fact that TMC and AAP are fielding candidates hurt Congress in the forthcoming elections?
As I said earlier, BJP attempts to weaken Congress from one side, and I think TMC is their number one core player in this. They (TMC) came just three months ago and have been spending hundreds of crores. If you look at every billboard, every newspaper ad, and how they are going about it, where is the money coming from? Who is giving this kind of money? Why are they spending this money? So there are many questions to be asked. Why does the party which has not done anything for Goa so far arrive in Goa with bags full of cash and starts purchasing people -- trying to buy workers and local leaders.
Their main aim is not to defeat BJP but to weaken Congress. So what is their strategy? A rumour is already doing the rounds that TMC and BJP are in a tie-up with a Gujarati businessman interested in making Goa a coal hub. And the bigger game plan or primary goal of the BJP is to make Goa a coal hub. There is a big businessman to support that party and to support that businessman, they (BJP) have brought TMC. It all looks like a large conspiracy. I do not know, but it could be true. Why else would a party come to Goa just three months ago and spend hundreds of crores? They would not even be able to win any seats. They will not open their account and will lose all seats. They only want to see Congress lose, and they will help BJP.
How do you rate the Pramod Sawant government's performance in the last five years?
See, there is no performance; they have failed on every promise. During Corona, they failed the people of Goa. There is no governance. Everyone is corrupt. They were not even elected to be in the government. They came in by corrupt means; they made MLAs defect. They have taken people from other parties. If you look at the scandals, there are so many issues.
People of Goa have been saying that they do not want these three linear projects. Why are they (Goans) saying they don't want Goa to become a coal hub? Why is Goa's environment being destroyed? Why is the heritage of Goa being destroyed? These people are hands-in-glove with those who have destroyed the heritage of Goa. If you look at the job scandal these days, the BJP stands exposed. One minister says that another minister has made more than a hundred crores in this (job scam), and nobody is sacked. There are sex scandals; videos of ministers are floating around. Every issue is a scandal.
I think this government will not cross single digits in terms of numbers. But to get an alternative (to stay in power), the BJP is doing its dirty tactics and getting other parties (AAP, TMC) to divide Congress votes. The BJP wants to make sure nobody wins and that there is a hung assembly. Then BJP will go back to their old ways of buying, purchasing, threatening and blackmailing using Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate departments to form another government illegally and illegitimately. That is their strategy. They know they can't win. I do not see them surviving as anti-incumbency is extremely high.
What key issues would find prominent mention in your manifesto? What new are you offering Goans?
The charge sheet that I just mentioned will be put forth before the people of Goa. This government has betrayed the people of Goa. All the issues will be put into the charge sheet. When the time comes and when we release the manifesto. You (Goans) will hear about it. We already have said a few things like creating jobs for Goans and 30 per cent job reservations for women. These were announced when Priyanka Gandhi came. Further announcements will come once the manifesto is launched. Ultimately, what we will promise is a good government and a clean government. We will provide a stable government.
The main thing is Congress has always remained on Goa's side on every issue that mattered to the state. Congress was there for Goa when it was liberated. It was Congress under Rajiv Gandhi that gave Goa statehood. It was Congress that gave Konkani the status of official language. So at every juncture, Congress has fought to preserve Goa's identity, culture, and holistic development. We made it into a tourism hub. We created jobs. Goa is the number one state in terms of per capita income. Where were the other parties when these things were happening? Where was the BJP, and where were the other parties? It is the only Congress that has been there throughout the history of Goa at every critical juncture. I think we have made a great contribution to Goa. We were there, and we will continue to be there for Goa.
Arvind Kejriwal says that his party is the main rival to the BJP in Goa. How do you respond to that claim?
Every democratic party has a right to claim and fight for supremacy. It is only the Congress that can fight the BJP here. Yes, AAP is trying for a breakthrough and winning a few seats here and there. I do not know if they will succeed, but they are working towards that. Let us be very clear that if you want a stable government, the only party in that position is Congress and no other party.
Goa Forward Party was once an ally of the BJP. Today, they are with you. Is this an alliance of convenience?
See Goa Forward Party has been publicly attacking BJP for two to three years. Yes, they were with the BJP, although they had secular credentials. But they joined the BJP when we could not form the government then. We are saying, 'let bygone be bygone'. Now they have openly committed to fighting the BJP and supporting the Congress in its fight against the BJP. Sometimes in politics, we have been very rigid about certain things. We have said that we will not take back defectors; we will not take back cheaters who won on Congress symbols. But in politics, sometimes, you also need to be pragmatic.
They (Goa Forward Party) have come on board and aggressively attacked the BJP. They are promising to the people of Goa that they will not compromise on the issue of secular credentials, and there will be no way they will go with the BJP. We trust them also. And hopefully, things should go well for both of us.
According to some media reports, there have been reservations expressed by some senior party leaders about allying with a former BJP ally. What would you want to say about that? How many seats are you willing to give your junior partner?
It was never a BJP's ally. After the elections, they joined the government and formed the government together. It was not that they were the pre-poll ally. Yes, in Congress, there was some difference of opinion. In every decision, there will be differences, which happens in politics. Ultimately both will sit down. Whatever decision is taken, we will stand by that decision. I think whatever differences were there have been settled and sorted out.
See, we had discussions with them. We are looking at this pragmatically and practically. Where they have a chance to win, definitely we will consider them. Ultimately we have to win. So whoever is in a better position to win in that seat, we will look at it in a very pragmatic manner. We will not go by absolute numbers but by winnability.
Some leaders say that last time due to your leader Digvijay Singh's laid-back attitude, Congress failed to form a government despite emerging as the largest party in the election. Will you reach out to AAP, TMC or NCP if there is a hung verdict?
We are confident that we will get a majority and the mistake that happened last time will not be repeated. Last time, we got 17 seats, but we did not get a full majority. We were short of the majority by four seats. Whatever (Digvijay Singh's blunder) has happened in history, we will not allow that mistake to be repeated. We are very clear that we will get the absolute majority and form the government. I don't think that we need to worry about it right now.
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