Why Michael Lobo’s switch is a shot in the arm for Goa Congress

ByGerard de Souza
Jan 14, 2022 12:59 AM IST

Goa assembly elections: Michael Lobo, along with his wife Delilah, joined the Congress on Tuesday evening promising to help the party win a majority in the state.

PANAJI: When Goa Minister Michael Lobo finally announced that he was quitting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and joining the Congress, the ruling party attempted to project that his departure will not have a bearing on the party’s prospects for the upcoming polls and if anything, Lobo was digging his own grave with his political move. The Congress, on the other hand, welcomed Lobo with open arms not only with jubilation but also relief -- relief that the aggressive Trinamool Congress wasn’t able to steal him from their grasp.

Goa assembly elections: Former BJP MLA Michael Lobo interacts with media after joining Congress ahead of the Goa Assembly elections in Panaji on Tuesday, January 11. (PTI)
Goa assembly elections: Former BJP MLA Michael Lobo interacts with media after joining Congress ahead of the Goa Assembly elections in Panaji on Tuesday, January 11. (PTI)

Lobo, along with his wife Delilah, joined the Congress on Tuesday evening promising to help the party win a majority in the state.

In many ways, Lobo’s departure from the BJP and into the Congress is against the tide in Goa’s choppy pre-election waters. Over the last few weeks, the BJP has brought over four sitting MLAs -- Rohan Khaunte (independent), Jayesh Salgaocar (Goa Forward), Ravi Naik (Congress) and Govind Gaude (independent), and also lost four -- Alina Saldanha (AAP), Pravin Zantye (Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party), Carlos Almeida (Congress) and now Michael Lobo (Congress).

“Those who are leaving know that they are not going to be given the BJP ticket and are aware of the party’s internal survey which indicated that they are facing anti-incumbency. Those who are joining us, they know that the party is going to win the elections and we have the information that with our party’s strength combined with their popularity they will get elected so we take them in,” BJP in-charge Devendra Fadnavis said at a Press conference in Goa on Wednesday.

That may be true for all who left the BJP, except for one - Michael Lobo. Of all the MLAs who have left, the BJP has reacted sharply only to Lobo’s exit.

“Michael Lobo took full advantage of the party for as long as he could. Now he wanted a ticket for his wife as well, which he couldn’t get in the BJP while the Congress will give a ticket to his wife also so he has gone to the Congress,” Fadnavis said.

A winnable candidate who has decided that his interests would be best served if he joined the Congress - a party that until a few months ago was being written off and taunted for the stunning decline in its seats in the Goa Legislative Assembly from 17 to just 2.

“Lobo was facing pressure from his constituents over continuing in the BJP - pressure over the party’s lackadaisical performance on various fronts including the economy, the state leadership and he felt his chances would be better in the Congress. He gauged the sentiments of the people and made his move,” lawyer Jatin Naik, a political observer, said.

“Lobo also sensed that he would be given a larger role in the Congress and will now promptly occupy a significant role as an important second-rung leader (after Digambar Kamat) in the Congress and could even become the deputy chief minister if the Congress comes to power,” Naik said.

Others suggest that it is Lobo’s desire to one day become the chief minister of Goa -- something that may not be possible in the BJP -- as evidenced by the fact that the Goa BJP’s earliest Christian face Francisco D’Souza who was Manohar Parrikar’s deputy when he was asked take charge as the country’s defence minister, was overlooked for the post in favour of Laxmikant Parsekar owing to Parsekar’s RSS roots. Something similar happened in 2019 after Parrikar’s death when several senior BJP leaders were overlooked in favour of Pramod Sawant, an RSS-honed leader largely.

“Seeing what was done to Francisco D’Souza, Lobo saw the possibility of becoming chief minister one day only in the Congress,” Clive de Souza, a political commentator said.

In remarks to the media after joining Congress, Lobo hinted that there were “some leaders within the BJP who didn’t want to see him grow” as one of the reasons why he felt “unwanted” in the BJP that led him to switch sides.

The move has come as a shot in the arm for the ‘principal’ opposition party, who needed Lobo more than Lobo needed them.

Having lost nearly all of its second-rung leadership to the BJP with the departure of 10 of its 15 remaining MLAs back in 2015, the Congress was staring at a void that was further accentuated by the departure of leaders like former chief minister Luizinho Faleiro and Reginaldo Lourenço to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. Lobo will promptly occupy that space and bring with him leaders with considerable heft.

Lobo could be overestimating his popularity and political heft, but he brings with him candidates who have a fighting chance of winning four of the seven seats in Bardez, a coastal taluka in North Goa. Lobo plans to field his wife Delilah in neighbouring Siolim constituency as well as his aides Kedar Naik and Sudhir Kandolkar in Saligao and Mapusa constituencies respectively where he claims he has influence. Without Lobo, the Congress would be significantly weaker in the taluka that is the second-largest chunk of seats in the 40-member Goa legislative assembly.

To be sure, Lobo was being wooed by the Trinamool Congress as well but he rejected their overtures, pointing that they were a party from Bengal and wouldn’t find acceptability in Goa.

His entry into the Congress has prompted some Congress leaders to put in their papers and they are expected to join the Trinamool Congress while the BJP has brought in Gurudas Shirodkar, an old-timer in an effort to fill the void left behind by Lobo’s exit.

But it won’t be smooth sailing for Lobo in the Congress.

“His decision to try and expand his influence beyond the taluka he represents and his unabashed ambition will not be well received by all and Lobo may yet realise he may have bitten off more than he can chew,” a journalist with a local newspaper who declined to be named, said.

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