The message was loud, clear, terse and firm. “Congress President, Smt. Sonia Gandhi has asked the PCC Presidents of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa & Manipur to put in their resignations in order to facilitate reorganisation of PCC’s” tweeted Randeep Singh Surjewala, AICC General Secretary. This virtually debunks news emanating from Goa earlier that Girish Chodankar had submitted his resignation to AICC. The fact is he has been marched out of his seat.
It took 3 resignations, 3 humiliating defeats in Assembly Polls, Zila Parishad Elections and Municipal Elections for ‘young’ Girish Chodankar to realise that he was cut out to lead Goa Pradesh Congress Committee. The GPCC president who admitted he had failed as a party leader yet again, five days ago still wanted the party to replace him. But conscience prevailed. He has resigned.
Goa Pradesh Congress Committee presidents have over some time been a mixed bag of the ambitious and the entitled. While loyalists like late Shantaram Naik, John Fernandes and Subhash Shirodkar were party presidents simply because they were loyalists who were ‘just there’ in the party and were rewarded for it. Then there was the ambitious ones like Luizinho Faleiro and Girish Chodankar who used their proximity to the Congress High Command and flaunt it to have their way in the party. Between the two kinds, Goa Congress ended up being a divided house cut off – from grassroots, indisciplined and exploitative.
Girish Chodankar’s reign was marred by an exodus of 10 MLAs, hundreds of Congress workers and grassroots leaders to AAP, TMC and other parties. The GPCC was reconstituted a record three times in less than four years with 120 to 60 members, many of the constituency-level Blocks were non-existent and headless as the party was split wide open even as Girish and his merry band of ‘leaders’ of frontal organisations pretended to run the party. They failed too.
As the party moves on, the question Congress workers in Goa are asking is will the party still go with the older order? The powerful clique that are the old order consist of Pratapsingh Rane-Francisco Sardinha-Alexio Sequeira-Ramakant Khalap-Digambar Kamat (of the now past Luizinho Faleiro era) or will it thrust the new coterie of Sankalp Amonkar-Amarnath Panjikar-Janaradhan Bhandari (stamped by Girish) ahead? Or still, would the party elevate new leaders who have joined the party over the past couple of years because they saw a leadership vacuum and opportunities to lead Congress. Leaders such as Elvis Gomes, Olencio Simoes, Nazir Khan and Tanvir Khatib or better still young and aggressive die-hard Congress leaders such as Sunil Kawthankar, Swati Kerkar, Avinash Tavares who had been cleverly side-lined by the current clique.
For Goa Congress, this is the Aapda Mein Avsar (Opportunity in Crisis) Moment that could define Congress of the future. The choices are divided between those who will not allow Congress to move forward (the Old School) and those who have woken up and smelt the coffee (the Future School)
A record eight-time MLA, a former CM and ex-Leader of the Opposition, Digambar Kamat is the most experienced hand to lead the Congress at this moment. A continuity between the Old School and the Future, Digambar’s many electoral victories over disparate times could well be an inspiration for the next generation of young politicians and a textbook case of loyalty and consistency in a party in the party-hopping Goa politics. As a former CM, Digambar’s face is also known all across Goa. Besides, he also has the resources to run the party.
Bold, savvy, tough-talking, communicative and a natural manager Sunil Kawthankar could be the organisation leader with no baggage that Congress could put its money on. During Assembly Elections 2022 as in charge of Strategic Campaign and Media Management, Sunil handled the party organisation, putting GPCC office-bearers to work, ensuring accountability, handling the many campaign teams and leaders from all over India and also emerging as the Fface of the Congress in TV battles and press conferences. Kawthankar has age on his side and carries no electoral ambition that could cloud his judgment. He is non-partisan in his approach to party management too, striking an excellent balance between the old and new generation of Congressmen.
The almost-giant killer from Curchorem, Amit Patkar is the brave new face of Congress from the influential mining belt, who lost to Nilesh Cabral, Goa’s Power Minister. A mining and infrastructure entrepreneur, Patkar emerged as the Congress favourite despite challenges from his party men and virtually rebuild the local block during election time. He could just be the rookie that Congress could look at.
A current vice president and a known Girish hand, Sankalp despite being a self-proclaimed forerunner, has the taint of the pre-election sting video in which he allegedly seen talking about taking Congress MLAs to support BJP if the party forms the government. Amonkar also was accused of embezzlement in Canacona Flood Relief Funds collected by Youth Congress a decade and a half ago during his tenure as Youth Congress President. Amonkar led a one-point agenda of bringing down arch-rival BJP Urban Development Minister Milind Naik down both politically and electorally.
Out from the cold, Aleixio Sequeira emerged as a Congress candidate from Nuvem with dollops of support from AICC in charge for South Goa despite suffering from troublesome health issues. His status, despite a decade long hibernation was further enhanced by appointing him a GPCC Working President. Tainted by corruption and land scams during his past tenure as Power Minister, Sequeira was instrumental in bringing down a majority Congress government in the past.
Goa’s next Congress president will have the toughest job of:
- reaching out to every block level member and coaxing her/him out of their comfort/sulking zone and integrating them into the party’s thought process – the incumbents have notoriously been attending party meetings and press conferences only and never walked the length and breadth of block committee boundaries
- establish regional, religious and caste parity – the incumbent had more leaders from South Goa, Hindu and of a certain caste group endowed with all responsibilities whilst others were left out of important decision making and activities of the party which was visible in the party being almost routed in its traditional Catholic bastion of Salcette.
- champion and fill the space of all NGOs and activists in the state – the party had sunk into a comfort zone not fighting street or courtroom battles as a tough opposition and instead used the hard work of other activists and NGOs and owning it as their own for appearing as crusaders on the Media.
Most importantly, Congress in Goa has to hit the streets, embrace the grassroots and open all lines of communications to everyone – what it desperately needs to reclaim its turf in time before forthcoming Panchayat Polls and Parliamentary Polls 2024.
Ajay Thakur is a South-Asia based Communication Consultant and Political Communicator.