Talking to a senior journalist in Goa once, Manohar Parrikar had said he wanted to be like Dayanand Bandodkar, the first chief minister of the state. His words in retrospect seem prescient because, like Bandodkar, Parrikar died while in office. Bandodkar was also the first Goan politician whose funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people in 1973. On March 18, people thronged to bid farewell to Parrikar. The BJP leader was cremated close to his idol’s memorial on Miramar beach, on the outskirts of state capital Panaji.
But will the BJP in Goa meet the same fate as Bandodkar’s Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) after his death? Once very influential, the MGP ruled Goa for over a decade before the emergence of the BJP. Today, the party has been reduced to a modest tally of three members in the legislative assembly.
The BJP in Goa has been suffering an identity crisis in the past couple of years. Its popularity and mass base have declined following a series of blunders. Infighting has reached its peak. Now, with Parrikar gone, there will be no one to hold the flock together.
That the BJP is desperate became evident from the fact that Pramod Sawant was sworn in as the new chief minister at 1.45 am in the intervening night of March 18 and 19. It also had to create two posts of deputy CM to win the support of Sudin Dhavalikar of the MGP and Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party (GFP). Dhavalikar, who was adamant on the CM’s post, withdrew from the race after two of the MGP’s three MLAs – Babu Azgaonkar and Deepak Pawaskar – offered to join the BJP to end the stalemate.
Desperate to choose a loyalist, the BJP went with Sawant, a comparatively inexperienced second-time MLA, choosing him over experienced leaders such as Nilesh Cabral and Vishwajeet Rane, whose loyalty has come under question in the recent past. An Ayurvedic doctor by profession, Sawant, 46, was known as Parrikar’s right-hand man. Having been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Sanquelim MLA also enjoys the support of the organisation. As the chairman of the Goa State Industrial Development Corporation, he had initiated several infrastructure projects such as eco-friendly government offices as well as India’s first floating jetty in old Goa, which had caught Parrikar’s attention.
Sawant’s immediate challenge will be to restore the functioning of the government, and rein in the ambitions of both his deputies. Of the other nine ministers, four are close confidants of Sardesai, which will help him gain the upper hand in the cabinet. Like Parrikar, Sawant will have to handle Sardesai carefully to avoid clashes in the government.
Sawant’s other challenge will be to restore iron ore mining in the state. It has been stalled since March 16, 2018, after the Supreme Court quashed 88 mining leases on February 7 last year. Not only has their closure affected the state’s revenues, say government officials and industry bodies, but some 200,000 people dependent on mining are without employment.
On the political front, Sawant’s immediate challenge will be to win both the Lok Sabha and the three assembly seats for which elections will be held on April 23. He could begin by trying to convince the MGP to withdraw its candidates against the BJP in the bypoll to the three assembly constituencies-Mandrem, Mapusa and Shiroda.
Sawant, a Maratha by caste, will also have to exhibit an inclusive leadership. The BJP’s core voters, the Other Backward Classes, feel they are being sidelined. On March 18, the community’s tallest leader, Union Ayush minister Shripad Naik, was made to wait for 15 minutes at the gate of the resort where cabinet colleague Nitin Gadkari was holding discussions with alliance partners.
A senior BJP leader also believes the Catholics will drift away from the party after Parrikar’s demise. “He was a binding force for them. We might find it difficult to win the Catholics in his absence,” he says. However state BJP president Vinay Tendulkar claims the Catholic voters will have no impact on the BJP. “We have been winning elections on Hindu votes prominently.” He did say Parrikar’s demise has left a permanent void.
Parrikar’s simple living and straight talking had won him many fans. Arati Desai, a second-year college student, went to the Kala Academy where his mortal remains were kept, to pay her last respects. “I always wanted to see him, but could not meet him ever. I came here to get a last glimpse,” she says. For young people like her, Parrikar was somewhat of an icon. One wonders if the BJP will be able to carry his legacy forward.