Goa’s jerky power transition this week, after the death of local BJP supremo Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar last Sunday, leaves wide open the challenges to the saffron party, which has dominated politics here for much of this decade and half of the previous.
The immediate challenges the BJP faces come from three directions — the lack of a second-rung leadership, whose growth was stymied largely by the larger-than-life image of Parrikar, the over-ambitiousness of its own alliance partners (without whom the BJP lacks a majority), and the pushiness of the central BJP leaders whose unseemly behaviour draws further criticism to their local affiliates.
This has lead to fears of more instability in the small state. Goa has an Assembly of just 40 members, where every seat or two could drastically change local political fortunes.
Of the 40-member Assembly, two have died (Chief Minister Parrikar and his former deputy Francis D’Souza, both BJP) and two more quit their seats to move from the Congress to the BJP.
But, in spite of all this, it does not necessarily follow that Goa would be seeing a repeat of the political instability of the 1990s.
That came about when the party ruling Panaji and the one at New Delhi were different and in conflict. If the same party ruled both the power centres, even lacklustre politicians like Digambar Kamat would be able to survive for a full term and more.
The BJP has shown a persistent desperation to stay on in power in Goa, in a tightly fought Indian political scene where every state counts, however small. This echoes the Congress’ intentions in the 1980s and part of the subsequent two decades.
What is clearer is that the stakes in this small state have clearly been upped, significantly. This means Goa will have to pay an even heavier political and ecological price.
This comes heavy and visible for a once-scenic state where today all kind of lobbies — from real estate to coal, infrastructure to casinos — have run amuck and are needed to generate the resources needed to run the political machinery.
Beyond the often misleading headlines, which conceal more than they reveal, the Goa situation is a deadly mix of overambitious politicians, traitorous colleagues, media management and continued controls from New Delhi.
Parrikar has drawn considerable praise following his untimely death last Sunday evening, at 63, after battling severe pancreatic cancer for a year, while staying in office throughout this period.
But at least part of the mess was due to his tendency to build bridges with some very compromised politicians to stay in power after the uncertain 2017 elections.
In the seat now is the low-profile and little-know RSS-linked Pramod Sawant, even as many bigger players sulk on the backbenches.
His swearing-in at 2 am in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, tiny Goa having two deputy chief ministers, and multiple delays before the event actually took place gave only a hint of the tension in assuming power for the BJP.
But this also drew a “didn’t wait for Manohar Parrikar’s ashes to cool down” jibe from the Shiv Sena, one of the many players competing for the saffron vote bank besides the once-ruling MGP, which is now in an uneasy alliance with the BJP.
At the same time, in Goa’s world of unreal politics, which seems more complex as propaganda mixes with reality, the chief minister who passed away won fulsome praise from no less than the Archbishop of Goa, Filipe Neri Ferrao.
Yet, the ruling party’s allies are playing hard to get when it comes to byelections the BJP needs to win to stay on in power here.