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How Chodankar-Kamat duo oversaw decline of Goa Congress

by | Mar 17, 2022 | India

As GPCC President Girish Chodankar resigns, all eyes are on CLP Leader Digambar Kamat who was equally responsible for the poor showing.
Members of the Eighth Legislative Assembly of Goa

Delhi: A day after the results of the poll, the duo of Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar and Congress Legislature Party Leader Digambar Kamat met defeated Congress candidates to analyse the results. Innocuous as it may sound, the meeting was questionable on many different levels. For one, why were the winning candidates not invited to the meeting? Why was the meeting hurriedly held without the presence of election observer P Chidambaram and AICC Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao? Even more baffling was the sudden concern of

Digambar Kamat

Digambar Kamat

Digambar Kamat over the performance of the Congress. The leader never stepped out of his constituency, Margao, not even to neighbouring constituencies of Salcette Taluka (the Minority bastion of Congress where it was decimated)? This newfound love for the party lies in Kamat’s bid to become the CLP leader’s yet again. The veteran leader has been lobbying aggressively for it. Days later Chodankar publicly asked the High Command to replace him, but spread the rumour that he had sent his resignation, only to be undone when  Sonia Gandhi ordered all state presidents to submit their resignations.

In Goa Congress, it has always been a regime of public loyalty, private betrayal and cold-calculated ambition of the powers that be which has left the party in ruins. Will Rajani Patil deputed by AICC president get carried away by the optics or read between the lines?

Goa Congress’ Enemies within

From the early 2000s. the party in Goa has witnessed the emergence of two groups – the older generation of Francisco Sardinha, Digambar Kamat, Aleixo Sequeira, Ramakant Khalap, Pratapsingh Rane, and Luizinho Faleiro (now in TMC). The new generation consist of Girish Chodankar, Sankalp Amonkar, Amarnath Panjikar, Vijay Bhike, Janardan Bhandari and Savio Dias amongst others. The older generation often loyalty and longevity to corner leadership roles such as chief ministership, CLP leadership or GPCC presidentship;  while the young and the restless generation next wanted the seniors to move aside soon. The resultant turf war has virtually led to an implosion in the party.

While the exodus of 10 of Congress’ 17 MLAs in 2019 is being attributed to Chodankar, who as president did not communicate often enough with his MLAs (or rather the MLAs did not hold him in high regard), the fact is that the Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat nor former GPCC president Luizinho Faleiro, did not intervene to prevent the defections. So when a desperate Kamat lobbies hard to continue his job as CLP Leader/Leader of the Opposition from previous Assembly, what stands out is how much has he contributed to keeping the Congress flock together?

A look at news reports makes it obvious that as the Leader of Opposition from 2019-22, Digambar displayed a compromising approach to the ruling BJP and often avoided taking the government head-on. In many crucial decisions such as the government’s handling of the Covid Crisis or the bulldozing of decisions to make Goa a Coal Hub or the 3 Linear Projects, Digambar approached the Speaker in the heat of the moment, sought adjournments and staged walkouts, denying his own party any chance to challenge the government. His silence especially on the performance of Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane is deafening.

Akbar Road insiders reveal that Kamat refused to become the GPCC president because he did not want to give up his official LoP position (which is of Cabinet rank) for a party position. The former CM has been playing down the CLP position to his newly-elected MLAs by calling it ceremonial when the fact remains that Kamat never campaigned for any of his elected MLAs or losing candidates nor has he worked for the party in the Assembly.

Public memory in Goa isn’t very short too. The prospective elevation of Kamat whether as CLP Leader or even GPCC president has to be judged in the backdrop of the Congress’ drifting away from its traditional minority base. Till the 2000s, Goa Congress had leadership positions in the party and the government in an equal measure kept aside for the influential Catholic minority in the State. Thereafter, to match the BJP’s rise the party has been pushing more Hindu leaders at the expense of the minorities.

Digambar personal public display of Hindu symbols  and hobnobbing with seers, temples visits and celebrations, besides his antipathy towards mixing with the minorities despite his constituency being in the heart of Catholic-dominated Salcette, hasn’t gone unnoticed. And the results of the Congress’ decimation in Salcette is proof enough that he as Congress’ leader inside Assembly or outside does not evoke much confidence.

Goa’s Presidential Suicide

If a treatise is ever written on how not to run the Congress party in Goa, the self-proclaimed blue-eyed boy of Rahul Gandhi from NSUI days Girish Chodankar’s term as state party president would be illustrative. A completely susegad (relaxed) leader of a party in perennial churning, Chodankar’s work culture is best reflected in his WhatsApp status which simple states I am never busy – a truth that many party workers and leaders who could not reach him between 8 pm and 10 am any given day would confirm. The fact that in a 24×7 world of BJP-style politics his style proved disastrous from the midnight exodus of 10 MLAs to the morning flight of then Goa Pradesh Mahila Congress President Pratima Coutinho to AAP early morning.

Insulated by a coterie of Hindu-dominated, same and similar caste leaders of the frontal organisation from IYC stock, Chodankar denied talent the chance to rebuild and strengthen the party. His choices from Sankalp Amonkar as Vice President GPCC who was visible as Kingpin in the Cash-for-MLAs Sting days before the elections or Pratima Countinho the Mahila Congress President who quit the party to join AAP or Urfan Mulla the Minority Chief who was expelled and joined BJP or even Varad Mardolkar the current Youth Congress Chief in whose constituency Congress lost deposit in Assembly Elections showed how clueless his leadership was. The Goa Pradesh Congress Committee and various Block Committees were reconstituted almost 3-4 times under his leadership as his penchant for appearing on camera for Press Conferences and Bytes and Media Events (a poor imitation of BJP-style politics) alienated him further from grassroots Congress workers.

It was also under Girish’s tenure that the President’s chair was accused of cash-for-tickets and embezzlement of party funds at regular intervals by senior party leaders and mid-level leadership alike.

As AICC’s Rajani Patil arrives next week “to assess the post-poll situation and suggest organisational changes in’ Goa ‘(with inputs) from MLA candidates and important leaders’, she would discover that it is those who fought the big bucks lure of BJP, TMC, AAP to joined her party in the past couple of years can be trusted more to rejuvenate and strengthen the Congress than those who are its known public faces since ages.

Our Correspondent
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