Crisis stares at Parrikar

Crisis stares at Parrikar

Goa and its politics

The news put out in Goa was that the workaholic chief minister would put in less than his punishing earlier ultra-long hours.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar (62), after spending over 100 days receiving medical treatment in the US, is back in the saddle. But
he’s not quite firmly entrenched yet at the seat of governance, the Secretariat-Assembly complex across the Mandovi river.

His challenges have been aggravated by uncertainty over his illness, a lack of second-line leadership within the party, squabbling among his MLAs and unsorted pending crisis — job losses, environmental degradation caused by open-cast iron ore mining, real estate pressure, flooding and growing citizen disenchantment with governance.

But the chief minister has his loyal fans who form a vocal segment cultivated by his no-nonsense attitude, clear-cut views on governance as well as a friendly press. The latter has played a crucial role, backing Parrikar for much of the two-and-half decades he sharply influenced Goa’s politics - first as Opposition leader, then as kingmaker who could topple Congress governments, the numero uno and even the power behind the throne when he was himself stationed in Delhi between December 2014 and March 2017 as defence minister.

The media still describes Parrikar’s ailment as a “pancreatic ailment”, rarely as cancer of the pancreas. But every small signal is noted carefully, from his appearance on his return to what he reportedly said during his first interaction with editors. Much meaning was read in Parrikar’s reported comment on his determination to beat back his health. He expects to go back to the US for a “few days” again for treatment.

More significant was his comment about the lack of local leadership. Since the early 1990s, Parrikar’s style of leadership could be seen as having contributed to this. At one stage, he had even half of the Congress top leadership rushing to join the BJP. His ability to make friends of former foes, defend those whom he once charged of corruption or file cases for corruption against former party colleagues have helped political stability in Goa, but at a price.

Parrikar’s trademark style of governance is once again visible though. He has shown his ability to take total charge, even if ill, defend colleagues falling in the political hot water and continue to be seen as a politician offering solutions by taking a firm stand on issues. For instance, he was quick to admit Goa’s power woes, which saw some semi-urban areas face power failures around eight or more times a day in the past summer and do loud-thinking on solutions.

When he surprisingly returned home on June 14, there was uncertainty within the party and the government over whether he would return or not. Parrikar got back to work the next day. The first thing he told journalists was to suggest those with “a cough and cold” to stay away from him.

The news put out in Goa was that the workaholic chief minister would put in less than his punishing earlier ultra-long hours. The Congress warned that the chief minister burdening himself when ill would be suicidal, but this show of concern for the only man who comes between their party and power in Goa is questionable.

More reasons for concern

Other changes add to Goa’s political uncertainty. In the recent days, two prominent BJP legislators — the party doesn’t have many as it won only 13 seats in the 40-member Assembly — were at each other’s throats.

The BJP, too, has other health concerns. A minister, Pandurang Madkaikar, was rushed to Mumbai after he suffered a stroke. In 2012, the BJP’s virtual No 2, the school teacher-turned-fishermen’s leader Matanhy Saldanha, whom Parrikar won over with great difficulty, died of a suspected heart attack. Vishnu Wagh, a former deputy speaker, is also bed-ridden, though only in his early 50s. The current No 2, Francis D’Souza, also has some health issues.

On the other side, the Congress state president, Shantaram Naik (72), voluntarily quit his party post, and then unexpectedly died of a heart attack weeks later.

Public perception is that the administration had declined in Parrikar’s absence. But the lack of interference by local politicians may have actually unexpectedly also toned up the administration, in some ways. Raids on narcotics and drugs threw up strange results.

A BJP North Goa general secretary Vasudev Parab faced hours of questioning, after an industrial shed that he held on a lease was found being used to manufacture crores of the anaesthetic Ketamin, the illegal recreational drug. After some hesitation, the BJP came to Parab’s defence and said their party leader had only rented out the industrial shed.

In a major drive against illegal gambling, known as ‘matka’ and popular with the common man along the west coast of India, the ruling party politicians ended up pointing fingers and arguing that gambling was not as serious as narcotics. Goa has legalised casinos for the affluent.

Some other action taken showed the stamp of Parrikar’s firm hand. Environmentalist Dr Claude Alvares was slapped with a case and had to take anticipatory bail for locking up a government mining office, in protest over this issue. Contentious coal handling in the port town of Vasco got an okay too.

Parrikar remains an enigma. An RSS ‘mukhya shikshak’ (chief instructor) while still in school, he is also India’s first IITian chief minister. While Goa gets concretised with flyovers, a huge third Mandovi bridge, and broad roads the length of the small state, Parrikar (incorrectly) has the image of a chief minister who goes to work on a cycle.

Clearly, some early expectations he came with have been hard to deliver on. Goa’s many fallow fields, the surrender to those illegally occupying land and controversial statements made by ministers, only adds pressure on the chief minister working hard on his own recovery.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Goa)

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