PANAJI: Goa minister Michael Lobo on Monday quit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of his expected entry into the Opposition Congress, saying he was upset with the functioning of the party, especially the manner in which the grassroots level workers were treated.
The departure comes a month before the Goa assembly elections are scheduled to be held on February 14 and is the latest in a series of defections from the BJP. One of the vocal members of chief minister Pramod Sawant’s Cabinet, Lobo is the third Christian lawmaker after Alina Saldanha and Carlos Almeida to have quit the BJP. The three have cited changes in the party’s functioning following former chief minister Manohar Parrikar’s death in 2019 for their exit. Christians account for over 25% of the state’s population.
Lobo said the BJP has become so big that it no longer values the contribution of grassroots workers. “Many came to me to complain. There will be ups and downs in a party but there cannot be a lock, stock, and barrel replacement of workers,” Lobo said. “I have been saying this for a long time but nobody was willing to listen. I felt we were sidelined.” Lobo said he was in talks with some political parties but was yet to take a decision on his future plans.
Congress leaders have confirmed Lobo was in talks with the party leadership ahead of his expected entry.
Saldanha has joined the Aam Aadmi Party while Almeida and independent lawmaker Prasad Gaonkar the Congress.
State BJP chief Sadanand Shet Tanavade said Lobo’s departure would not make any difference to the party. “All this time he was only physically present in the party. We considered him as having left. We did not dismiss him out of deference to his long contribution to the party.”
Jatin Naik, a political observer, said Lobo’s departure will weaken the BJP in the politically-significant Bardez taluka, which sends seven lawmakers to the 40-member state assembly. “The BJP is on the back foot and with this development, the party’s ability to win a simple majority on its own is significantly diminished.”
The Congress emerged as the single-largest party in the state in 2017 with 17 seats in the 40-member assembly. But it was unable to form the government as the BJP, which won 13 seats, managed to form an alliance with Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Goa Forward Party (GFP), and two independents. In 2019, 10 Congress lawmakers defected and gave the BJP a comfortable majority in the assembly.
MGP has since quit the BJP-led alliance and has tied up with the Trinamool Congress. The GFP is now a Congress ally.