Voted back to power, can Parrikar tackle the mining lobby?

Voted back to power, can Parrikar tackle the mining lobby?

Congress analysts trying to gauge the pulse behind the vote that stumped the party in Goa use the term ‘social engineering’ to explain Manohar Parrikar’s success in this election.

Manohar Parrikar

Parrikar did indeed manage a sort of social engineering to script his and his party’s win in Goa. From just one in the past, the BJP now has eight Catholic MLAs (two of them independents) on its side. Also significant is how a tie-up with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) produced a saffron polarisation of the vote in Hindu-dominated swathes of Goa.

But to think strategy alone helped Parrikar, is to miss the unambiguous message in the result. The Congress and its cronies refuse to face up to the implicit rejection the vote represents of politicians who had crossed the line on corruption, complacency and bribe-related delivery. With the promotion of Generation Next of entrenched politicians, the probability that the ‘collection raj’ would endure and continue to grow like a malignant tumour became a serious concern in the voters’ mind.

While the Churchill Alemao clan and the Ravi Naik family were prised out, some survived. Among them Speaker Pratap Singh Rane’s son Vishwajit, Babush Monserrate, Pandurang Madkaikar (all Congress) and the unapologetic Micky Pacheco who inexplicably cruised in with the Goa Vikas Party surfing the anti-Congress-NCP tide.

But after years of holding the political aces that allowed them to make or break governments, most of Goa’s political movers and shakers have been rendered politically impotent and irrelevant by the mandate for the BJP. This goes for the MGP’s politically astute Dhavlikar brothers as well. At the oath taking ceremony on March 9, Parrikar placed Ramkrishna Dhavlikar fifth in cabinet rank, though there was talk before the election that the older Dhavlikar would be elevated to deputy CM’s post if the BJP fell short of majority.

Ever since its start-up in Goa in 1994, the BJP’s relationship with the MGP has been somewhat tenuous and uneasy. Desperate to retain the lion symbol – intrinsic to the MGP’s identity –the reluctant Dhavlikar brothers kept the BJP guessing about the pre-poll alliance till the very end. The saffron tie-up polarised the vote to such an extent that it gave the BJP-MGP huge margins in Hindu majority constituencies.The BJP won 13 of its 21 seats in North Goa. The MGP won three seats, all in the Ponda taluka. But that’s just one more than what they got in two previous elections which had given them such bargaining clout with shaky governments. The MGP which was no less ineffectual or corrupt than its previous coalition partners the Congress-NCP will be an element Parrikar will want to marginalise in his government. 

Pinnacle of career

For Manohar Parrikar, 2012 is the pinnacle of a political career that has been shaped astutely over almost two decades. In late 2000 he engineered defections in the Congress and formed Goa’s first BJP government. He called an early election in 2002, but with Godhra in the background, both the MGP and the Catholics steered clear of the BJP. Parrikar did manage to form a government but lost power in early 2005. His four years in power saw the growth of RSS shakas in Goa with 80 of them sprouting up in the smallest of villages. Government primary schools set for closure for lack of students were handed over to RSS affiliates to run. With saffron clouding his judgement Parrikar had made minorities in Goa uneasy in his first term. The Curchorem riots in 2006 when Muslim shops and businesses were targeted by saffron groups also ensured the BJP’s defeat in the 2007 election.

After seven years on the fringes of power a calmer and wiser Parrikar now occupies the CM’s chair. The clear mandate allows him the luxury of considered decisions not borne out of political compulsions. Of the many issues before him, the trickiest will be walking the tightrope over the medium of instruction for primary schools, regulated mining and the state’s Regional Plan 2021. Acting on pressure from the hundreds of regional languages primary schools that want to switch to English medium, the Congress government had announced a policy change in government funding last year. The BJP which insists it will not budge on the mother tongue policy, will have to strike a compromise to please all the stakeholders, among them the church which runs 132 primary schools where parents want to switch from Konkani to English medium.

After the huge dividends the BJP reaped politically from the illegal mining issue in Goa, putting a cap on iron ore extraction and exports might be easier said than done. Various mining stakeholders have already started petitioning the new government asking that it withdraw the September 2011 ban on lifting ore from dumps. The arrival of the new government has already sent fly-by-night operators and ghost companies packing from Goa.

But data presented to the Bombay high court by the environment group Goa Foundation shows that companies that profited most from mining have also been the biggest violators of the laws. Among them are Sesa Goa, Fomento Resources, the Dempo group, Chowgules and Salgaocars. Except for one, most of the big exporters are the BJP’s biggest supporters, and two of them have VHP connections. That being so, can Parriker tame the illegal mining lobby, as he has promised, remains to be seen.

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