Yuri Alemao, Altone D’Costa and Carlos Alvares Ferreira, the three Congress MLAs who didn’t join the eight party MLAs who jumped ship to join the Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa last week, tell Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com about why they decided to stay with the Congress.
‘BJP knows I am not a commodity up for sale’
Thirtyseven-year-old Yuri Alemao defeated the BJP’s Clafasio Dias by 3,234 votes in the February 2022 assembly election from Cuncolim.
What keeps you rooted to the Congress when eight out of 11 Goa Congress MLAs are on the verge of merging with the BJP?
It is a matter of commitment and ethics for us. We believe in the Congress’s ideology and basic ethics. We have a commitment to our voters who elected us for five years on a Congress party ticket.
The voters of Goa elected 11 of us as Congressmen because they thought we would represent their interests in the assembly and act as a constructive Opposition to the BJP.
They did not elect us so that we could defect overnight and merge with another party for self-interest.
We are all (the three MLAs who are still with Congress) together and we will stay loyal to our party and our voters.
Will you still stay with the Congress after your term as an MLA from Cuncolim gets over in 2027?
We have been loyal Congress soldiers and we will always be with the party.
Currently, we have decided that we will stay with the Congress party and we have all decided to respect the sentiment of our voters. In a democracy, the people’s verdict is supreme and we will respect their mandate.
Dinesh Gundu Rao — the Congress desk in-charge of Goa — alleged that each of the eight Congress MLAs were paid Rs 40 crore-Rs 50 crore to join the BJP. Were you made such an offer by the BJP?
No one (from the BJP) contacted me because they know that I am not a commodity that is up for sale to the highest bidder. We are known Congress loyalists and will continue to be so.
What kind of Opposition will three Congress MLAs offer to the BJP which will now have 28 MLAs in a House of 40?
Even if I am alone, I will make sure that the BJP government is held to task if it works against the people of Goa. Definitely, all three of us will work and ensure that the interests of the people of Goa are taken care of.
With just three MLAs now what’s the future of Congress party in Goa?
The people of Goa will decide the future of the Congress party in the state. The voters of Goa gave us 24 per cent of the vote share in the state in the 2022 election indicating that there is still a sizeable section of voters in the state who value the Congress ideology.
MLAs come and go, but the values remain.
We are a 137-year-old party and definitely we will work harder now to win trust of more people in the state through constructive opposition to the BJP government.
‘Opposition is not defined by numbers’
Fortysix-year-old Altone D’Costa defeated the BJP’s Chandrakant Raghukavlekar by 3,601 votes in the February 2022 assembly election from Quepeum.
Did you get any monetary offers to join the BJP as alleged by Dinesh Gundu Rao?
I did not get any offers (from the BJP) because I never expressed any willingness to join (the BJP). So the question of getting any offers does not arise.
I have steadfastly ensured that BJP gets the message straight and clear. I am not up for sale.
Though attempts were made to tell me to join (the BJP), I have always vowed to remain faithful to my voters, workers and the Congress party.
It has become a habit with some MLAs to get elected on one party’s ticket and jump to another party. That is not the principle (to join another party for the lure of money and power) that I follow.
But hasn’t defections been quite common in Goa since the 1970s?
Yes, but this time the height was so many of these people (who defected to the BJP) went to the temples, churches, dargahs and took oaths of allegiance that we will never defect.
That was the ultimate thing any human being can do, but some people decided to stoop low and ditch their voters in their respective constituencies.
It is really very hurting (for the people of Goa and the voters).
What kind of attempts were made to lure you to join the BJP?
People had come to me; they sent messages to me through interlocutors to check if I was willing to join them. I said no. Since I declined nothing much materialised (talks of money to join the BJP) after that.
In July 2019, 10 out of 11 elected Congress MLAs joined the BJP and now in 2022 eight of 11 Congress MLAs have defected to join the BJP. In such a political atmosphere, what does it take to stay loyal to the Congress?
It is an individual’s values and principles that matter (at such times).
Nobody knew in 2022 that the BJP will come to power again or if the Congress will come to power. Some people from the BJP joined Congress (just before the February 2022 assembly election) because they thought that the Congress will come to power.
Unfortunately, that did not happen, but just because we didn’t come to power you should not ditch the party.
The party entrusted its faith in you; the voters who went out to vote entrusted their faith in you. And what you do is ditch your own voters.
What are you telling your voters now?
After the defections happened I met my voters. They were quite happy that I stood by their trust and didn’t leave the Congress.
What message do you have for the eight Congress MLAs who will soon merge with the BJP?
I wish them luck. I would urge them to stick to the old principles on which we fought the last assembly election against all odds.
I hope they will continue to fight the good battle against double-tracking, pollution which the people of Goa have rejected.
I would be very much happy if they fight for what the people of Goa don’t want despite being in the government.
How do you three plan to take on the 28 BJP MLAs?
Opposition is not defined by numbers. It can be one, two, ten or whatever. The Opposition is Opposition.
There can be no democracy without an Opposition.
We also have the Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardesai, who alone is fighting a good fight against the BJP. He will also be with us.
We will raise our voices against all anti-people policies of the BJP government. We will take on the wrong, but we will definitely support what is good for the people of Goa.
‘Proud of Congress’ principles and ideology’
55-year-old advocate Carlos Alvares Ferreira defeated the BJP’s Glen John E Souza Ticlo by 1,823 votes in the February 2022 assembly election from Aldona.
What keeps you still with the Congress?
My commitment, my ideology and my assurance to my voters.
Were you made any offers by the BJP as alleged by Dinesh Gundu Rao?
(Laughs heartily) Anyways, that is the past and those who have crossed the racing line have gone and that’s the fact. I don’t want to make any comments on the people who have gone.
Were you offered money by the BJP?
I understand what you are asking, but I would rather deflect it (again laughs heartily).
Is this how democracy should work in India? What happens to the Opposition in Goa? Will just three of you be able to provide a strong and constructive Opposition?
When there were rumours that such a move was in the offing I had said that even if necessary, I’ll be the lone rider.
I don’t mind holding the flag of the Congress alone, because we have certain principles, we have some ideology and we are proud of both.
We can’t deceive our voters; promise them one thing and then switch sides in the name of development.
I will tell you one more thing.
We have a matter pending before the Supreme Court regarding ten of our MLAs who joined the BJP (in July 2019).
We took the matter to the Supreme Court when we suffered a setback in the (Bombay) high court because the high court just ruled that if you have the 2/3 numbers, you could just go (switch parties), which I thought was also a bad judgment.
I had warned that such a judgment will give a license to such people to merge with other parties.
When you are merging your party it is (done) under Para 4 (of the anti-defection law) and clauses (of anti-defection law) will not apply in case your members have merged their original political party with a new or other political party.
Now, you can claim that your party has merged (because you have a two-thirds majority and so the clauses of anti-defection law won’t hurt you), but what is the definition of original political party?
It means the party which set you up for the election. Then, there is also another definition of that of the legislature party.
The legislature party is the legislative wing of your party, but Para 4 talks of, and rightly so, merger of your original political party (and not the legislative wing of original political party with some other political party).
It is the Indian National Congress which set us up for elections. Those eight (MLAs who defected to the BJP) were also set up for the (February 2022 Goa assembly election) by the Indian National Congress and not by the Congress legislature party in Goa. It is also not the Goa Pradesh Congress Committee which set us up for the election.
If you want to say the original political party has merged then, and I have been repeatedly said this, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should also be BJP. It can’t be that the branch offices have decided to merge and the whole company suffers for that.
This is what I am wanting the Supreme Court to adjudicate upon. That is my contention. The original case (of merger of 10 Congress MLAs into BJP in 2019) is already in the Supreme Court and we plan to approach the apex court (now that a similar episode is playing itself out in the state) to expedite that matter.
I have been with the Congress since 1992 and I have seen defections, and we have also done defections, I can’t say no to that.
The Tenth Schedule was introduced with the intention to curb the defection for the lure of office. These are the exact words when the Bill was introduced (in Parliament). It has been repeated again and again in the Supreme Court in various related matters.
I would say that if your defection is a principled defection, then you should not be rewarded with anything (ministries) at least for two years. If you are walking over and just being rewarded, then it is nothing but bribery. That is my contention.
We need an amendment to the Tenth Schedule wherein if one merges happily with any political party, then there should be no reward for such actions and if you are resigning (from your original party and then contesting the election from some other party) then you should not be able to contest because you are wasting public money.
Finally, I know you have twice deflected my question, were you offered money by the BJP to join them?
You know my answer to this question (laughs heartily).
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