Goa CM Pramod Sawant has a tough job ahead of him

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Goa CM Pramod Sawant has a tough job ahead of him

Pramod Sawant will have Narendra Modi’s full backing, but he would have to work out his own ways to reach out to his party men, allies and those sections of Goa voters who would look at the ‘BJP without Manohar Parrikar’ as an anathema.

“You may take me out of Goa but you cannot take Goa out of me.” These words of Manohar Parrikar, the 63-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister of Goa and former defence minister, are enough to qualify his relationship with his state, its people and politics.

Parrikar died on March 17 after fighting pancreatic cancer, leaving the BJP orphaned of its most prominent face of the land, which the rest of India imagines to be just the sun, surf and beaches. Without Parrikar in a state befuddled with issues such as rising unemployment, the BJP faces not just an uncertain future but also a vacuum in leadership, which will remain a big problem for Goa too.

Despite his last appearances showing a fragile man with a nasal tube and supported by aides, Parrikar symbolised an era of stability that had eluded Goa since its formation in 1961 after it was liberated from the Portuguese.

Before Parrikar, Goa went through five phases of President’s Rule interspersed by short governments led by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Congress. The state politics underwent a change after the BJP came to power at the Centre under Atal Bihar Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999. Under Parrikar, who formed the first BJP government in 2000, the party managed to develop roots and form governments — alternating with the Congress.

During the 1990s, Goa saw 13 CMs in 10 years. Some of them did not last in the office for a year. The MLAs kept shifting sides for power. Congress’ Ravi Naik created history by becoming the shortest serving CM for seven odd days. Parrikar got four terms, but could never complete a full term in office. He dissolved the assembly mid-way in his first term. Parrikar’s second stint was toppled by BJP MLAs led by Digambar Kamat shifting to the Congress. He had to leave his third term to serve as the defence minister. His fourth term ended after he lost the battle to cancer.

On March 18, after the last respects were paid to Parrikar, a 2 am swearing-in ceremony in the Raj Bhavan placed his favourite follower and Goa assembly speaker, Pramod Sawant, in the CM’s chair. However, this was not before tough negotiations and hard bargaining with BJP’s allies. A crisis was averted after Sudin Dhavalikar of the MGP and Vijay Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party (GFP) were appointed deputy chief ministers, a first for Goa. These two leaders had objected to Sawant’s name, seeking themselves to be made CM. Union minister Nitin Gadkari was BJP’s negotiator who managed to strike the deal.

The support of the MGP and the GFP has meant that the NDA reached a tally of 20 in a 40-member assembly. This has put to rest Congress’ claim that it is the largest group in the assembly. In terms of the assembly arithmetic, there are four vacant seats after the death of two BJP members (including Parrikar) and the resignation of two Congress lawmakers.

After the 2017 state polls, the Congress emerged as the largest party. However, Gadkari managed to strike an alliance with other parties to form a BJP-led state government. Parrikar, who was then the defence minister, had to quit and return to Goa to once again become the chief minister because he was the most acceptable leader.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah picked on 45-year-old Sawant as he represented the original BJP, rising from the ranks of the youth wing and enjoying a relatively a clean image. However, Sawant faces an unenviable task. His survival as CM and the BJP’s continuation in office depends on ensuring a modicum of stability and winning the two Lok Sabha seats (North Goa and South Goa) and the bypolls to three assembly seats of Mapusa, Mandrem and Shiroda.

Sawant has been candid to admit that Goa politics will not be the same without his mentor. Even if Parrikar’s death leaves sympathy for his party, Sawant realises that he is a green horn when it comes to crafting a strategy.

Parrikar was not just an able administrator but also a man of the masses and adept in realpolitik — whose interactions and friendships were beyond the traditional support bases of his party. Sawant will have Modi’s full backing, of course, but, he would have to work out his own ways to reach out to his party men, allies and those sections of Goa voters who would look at the ‘BJP without Parrikar’ as an anathema. Here Gadkari will be of great help to Sawant, as Shah’s ways won’t work in Goa.

Of course, with Parrikar no more the Congress is smelling power again. Its calculation would be that the survival of the Sawant-led government would be difficult and fresh polls are bound to take place, sooner or later.

In the absence of Parrikar, the MGP and the GFP would also be looking at new equations. Thus the initial challenge for Sawant would be to ensure that the apple-cart is not toppled till at least the general electionsare over. In the meantime, Sawant can follow Parrikar’s footsteps and focus on development.

A big factor that could determine and even alter the events in Goa is the results of the general elections. If Modi returns as Prime Minister of a BJP-led NDA government it would act as a deterrent to the disrupters in Goa. This maybe even the deciding factor on how Sawant’s term as CM goes. A change at the Centre would most likely act against Sawant’s term as Goa CM.

Another factor could be the reluctance of sitting MLAs (much like the AIADMK MLAs in Tamil Nadu) to face fresh polls — after all, they got elected only in 2017.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Daily Report and is published from The Indian Express.)

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