Newsmaker: Meet CM Manohar Parrikar, BJP's lynchpin of power in Goa

Manohar Parrikar | Photo: PTI
Is Goa headed for an extended period of political instability? Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is seriously ill and evidence suggests that without him, the state has been only borderline stable.

Parrikar became chief minister of Goa for the first time in October 2000 (raising the strength of the BJP from four MLAs in 1994 to 17 in 2002). But he served for just two years. He lost power because of his own mistakes, he cheerily admitted, but was back in office four months later to rule till 2005, when he lost the election largely on account of his belief that only he was honest and everyone else was a thief. 

This blind belief in himself kept him in the Opposition till 2012. He conceded that in his last tenure, withdrawing Good Friday and the Feast of Francis St Xavier from the list of government holidays was a mistake. The BJP has not been popular with the Christians in Goa. But in the run-up to the 2012 elections, Parrikar made a special effort to reach out. In 2006, Wilfred Mesquita joined the BJP and contested the South Goa Lok Sabha constituency. In 2012, the BJP fielded six Christians and supported two others. All eight won. Tough questions were asked in the course of the campaign, especially about the BJP’s role in the Graham Staines episode in Odisha. But Parrikar handled them with aplomb — including apologising for disrespecting Good Friday. This uncharacteristic humility paid off. In 2012, the BJP had 21 seats as against its 2002 tally of 17 seats when it had to rely on the support of smaller parties and independents to form a government. With its allies, the BJP was placed comfortably with 26 MLAs in the House of 40.

This changed in 2017. This time the BJP got only 13 seats, four less than the Congress’ 17. Union minister Nitin Gadkari, who was in charge of Goa in the BJP, was sent on a salvage mission. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) was the first on the list of alliance partners. The same Ramkrishna ‘Sudin’ Dhavalikar, who is today staking a claim to become chief minister on the grounds that he is the seniormost in the alliance, was won over and persuaded to support Parrikar. Vijai Sardesai, mentor of the Goa Forward party (he has said publicly that he believes recitation of Vedic mantras is a good way of enhancing farm yield), was next on the list. Finally, the Nationalist Congress Party, which is a partner of the Congress in Maharashtra but has a mind all its own in Goa, was persuaded to back Parrikar.

By contrast, the lethargic leadership of Digvijaya Singh, who was overseeing operations for the Congress, saw the party crash and burn, despite having more seats. 

But now the crisis is at the door. Parrikar is not in any position to handle negotiations. BJP President Amit Shah is handling them directly. There are competing claims within the BJP itself. The alliance partners are smelling blood.  Is Goa headed for President’s rule? More to the point, is this going to be a permanent feature of Goa politics henceforth? 

As a leader, Parrikar was neither diplomatic, nor discreet. He is a man of simple personal habits. No convoys of cars would accompany Parrikar, no Gypsy vans loaded with personal security. Local newspapers noted how he tended to — in the newly expanding cities of Goa that are choked with cars but no civic consciousness —get out of his vehicle to spontaneously start directing traffic. He was once spotted eating fruit salad at a roadside shack in Panjim. This gave him a stature few politicians have in Goa. 

If he is absent from Goa politics for any length of time, the BJP would be well advised to consider a No 2. Otherwise, winning — and keeping — Goa might not be easy.

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