At centre of Goa defection storm, Michael Lobo returns to haunt Congress again

At centre of Goa defection storm, Michael Lobo returns to haunt Congress again

Two months after the Congress accused its then Leader of Opposition (LoP) Michael Lobo of plotting a defection of its MLAs along with senior party leader and former chief minister Digambar Kamat, Lobo returned to deal a blow to the grand old party again, as he along with seven other party MLAs, including his wife Delilah Lobo and Kamat, jumped ship and joined the ruling BJP Wednesday.

The Congress had managed to foil their first defection attempt in July, firing Lobo as the LoP. It had then also sought the disqualification of Kamat and Lobo as MLAs, filing disqualification petitions against them before the Assembly Speaker, which are still pending. The state Congress president, Amit Patkar, and other leaders had then also urged the Speaker to change the seating arrangements in the House in accordance with the Congress Legislature Party (CLP)’s resolution removing Lobo as the CLP leader.

The three-time MLA from Goa’s tourist hub Calangute, Lobo, 46, had switched to the Congress from the BJP earlier this year in the run-up to the February Goa Assembly polls. “You will know where I am at the right time,” Michael Lobo would frequently say in the months preceding the polls. Soon afterwards he quit the BJP, in whose government he was the Minister for Ports, Science and Technology, Rural Development and Waste Management, and joined the Congress, going on to win another term from Calangute.

Months into the term of the new Assembly, Lobo’s remark then – “you will know where I am at the right time” – continues to hold true

now, given his return to the saffron party along with his wife Delilah in a move along with other defectors that would reduce the Congress’s tally to just 3 MLAs in the 40-member Assembly now.

Earlier this year, when Lobo severed his 15-year-old ties with the BJP and joined the Congress with Delilah and his supporters, it was seen as a shot in the arm for a crumbling Congress that had seen all but one of its MLAs leaving to join other parties or backing out of the February polls.

Before he joined the Congress, Lobo was a minister in the previous BJP government led by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant but was often at odds with the government over statements he made in the press.

A political heavyweight in Bardez, North Goa, Lobo was credited with the Congress’s win in four seats in the taluka, including Siolim, from where Delilah won for the first time. Lobo, a businessman with interests in several hotels and restaurants, however, has been at the receiving end of the government’s recent check on “illegalities”.

It was this that the then AICC’s Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao referred to at press conference in early July, when he said about Lobo, “He has been working in the background with the BJP to save his own skin. Because of so many cases against him and so many problems he was facing, he has compromised himself.”

During the previous BJP regime, tension had been simmering between Lobo and the then Town and Country Planning (TCP) Minister Vishwajit Rane for months. Properties co-owned by the Lobos have been issued notices by the Food and Drug Authority too. During an Assembly session, Rane had said that he would expose the “illegalities” allegedly perpetrated by Lobo during his tenure as the chairman of the North Goa Planning and Development Authority (NGPDA).

When he joined the Congress in January, Lobo had said, “We have joined in the interest of Goa. The way forward for the people of Goa is only the Congress party… When I was deputy Speaker, I had taken a very strong stand. Defection has to end. You cannot switch sides. You have to resign,” he had said.

Rao too had then kind words for Lobo: “A very strong, powerful grass-root leader is joining the Congress party. He is connected to the common people, he works for them. He has established himself as a big leader not only in his constituency but all over the (Bardez) taluka….A big force has entered the Congress party.” In July, however, Rao called Lobo a “traitor” and a “backstabber”.

As the defection again struck the Congress, it was evident that eight months is a long time for Lobo, the Congress and Goa.

Speaking to the media Wednesday, Lobo confirmed that eight of the 11 Congress MLAs have switched to the saffron party. “We have joined the BJP to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant…’Congress chhodo, BJP ko jodo (Leave the Congress, strengthen the BJP)’,” he said.