Senior Goa Congress leader Digambar Kamat, accused of conspiring with the BJP to engineer defections of legislators, was Sunday removed as a permanent invitee to the party’s top decision-making body.
The move by Congress president Sonia Gandhi comes a week after the party’s Goa in-charge, Dinesh Gundu Rao, accused Kamat, a former chief minister, and MLA Michael Lobo of being involved in an attempt to split the legislative wing.
In a statement issued Sunday, K C Venugopal, National General Secretary in-charge of organisation, said: “Hon’ble Congress President has removed Shri Digambar Kamat from his current position as Permanent Invitee to Congress Working Committee with immediate effect”.
Kamat and Lobo both face a disqualification petition filed by the Goa Congress before the Speaker of the legislative assembly for “anti-party activities”.
On July 10, only five of 11 Congress MLAs turned up at a press conference called by Rao amid speculation of defections to the BJP.
Rao then accused the two senior leaders of working with the BJP to get at least eight of 11 MLAs to defect. At least two-thirds of a party’s MLAs have to be on board for its merger with another legislature party to dodge the anti-defection law.
A day later, however, senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Wasnik was dispatched to Goa from Delhi for firefighting. Ten MLAs, including Lobo, met Wasnik. Kamat stayed away. The party then appeared to have averted the crisis for the time being.
Kamat was made a permanent invitee to the CWC, the party’s top decision-making body, in April. While he served as the Leader of Opposition in the previous legislative assembly and was the undeclared chief ministerial nominee ahead of February’s assembly polls, Kamat was divested of all responsibility in the state. Smarting over not being made the leader of the Congress’s legislature party again, Kamat had taken a step back from the party’s activities in Goa since March.
Rao had earlier said that Kamat was resorting to “cheap” and “desperate” politics for “personal gain”. Kamat had earlier told The Indian Express: “ I was shocked, surprised and stunned to see the way he was talking. People of Goa, people of Margao have known me for so many years. I have seen such things before. If I had to take any such action, I had lots of opportunities in 2017 and 2022. I stayed with the party when we had a clear mandate and still the party did not form the government or ask me if you can form the government and we lost the opportunity. In 2022, I was the only MLA who contested (from the Congress) and I led the party from the front. Most of the MLAs had gone. I still remained in the party. It was so much easier for me at that time (to change parties). Who was going to question me?”
Kamat had also said: “There may be some people who may be happy if I leave the Congress. I have no such intention. I worked for the party with sincerity. My hard work of so many years in the party has no value. It appears like that. You feel sad.”
Kamat has been elected from his fortress of Margao seven times. During this time, he has oscillated between the Congress and the BJP.
While his journey began with the Congress, Kamat joined the BJP in 1994 and won two elections as the party’s candidate. In 2005, he joined the Congress once again. In 2007, with opinion divided on whether to choose Ravi Naik or Pratapsingh Rane as CM, the party finally named Kamat as a “compromise”. Kamat had joined the Congress two years before he was made CM for his second stint and was reportedly instrumental in bringing down the Manohar Parrikar-led BJP government in 2005.
Before becoming CM in June 2007, Kamat served as the state’s minister for power, urban development, mines and art and culture.
His chief ministership was, however, chequered. Kamat was accused in a case of bribery under sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Along with then PWD minister Churchill Alemao, Kamat was also booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Alemao was PWD minister from 2007 to 2012 when officials of the US-based company Louis Berger allegedly paid bribes to win a consultancy bid for water augmentation and a sewerage pipeline project in Goa under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The case under the PMLA is being probed by the Enforcement Directorate and a court has framed charges against both Kamat and Alemao.
Kamat, who served as mining minister of the state for 10 years, was in 2012 indicted by a judicial commission for reportedly allowing illegal mining in the state.
Before he made his debut as MLA in 1995, Kamat had served as a councillor of the Margao Municipal Council from 1985 to 1990. Kamat, who has interests in real estate, described himself as an “agriculturist” in his election affidavit and declared moveable assets worth Rs 6.87 crore and immovable assets worth Rs 3.21 crore. He holds a BSc degree from Mumbai University