BJP will do anything to retain Goa

As Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s condition worsened last week – although his inner circle claims he is getting better -- a motley crowd of BJP partymen, allies, and even two legislators from the opposite camp jumped in to get their pound of flesh when the time comes for a change of leadership. Congress, which had emerged the single largest party in Goa’s 2017 assembly elections, is now scared that more of its legislators could defect.

Parrikar has been in and out of hospitals since February this year. What began as a stomach upset, grew into ‘a pancreatic ailment’, as much of the media still prefers to describe it. Only a few are willing to call it by its name -- pancreatic cancer – after action was taken against one local journalist for calling it so. This is an illness that usually renders itself to detection at a late stage and its victims have slim chance of recovery.

Parrikar returned from a stint at the AIIMS, New Delhi, on a stretcher and in an air ambulance, but the determined chief minister has earlier spoken of making a recovery.

The BJP has been dependent almost entirely on Parrikar in Goa, ever since he and three other partymen first entered the 40-seat assembly in 1994. He was CM in the early 200s and then since 2012 but was called to the Centre to be Defence minister months after the Modi government came to power in 2014. Even in opposition, he was a powerful leader who set the agenda for Goa for nearly a quarter century. But this is not the only reason why the transition has become challenging.

Parrikar’s determination has led him to stay on as CM, despite having had to be rushed to hospital over half-a-dozen times -- thrice to Memorial Sloan Kettering in the US, the top-ranked cancer treatment centre in the world, and to Mumbai and AIIMS, New Delhi. The BJP, meanwhile, is caught up in its own hype of dominating states across India and thus fears losing even tiny Goa.

The factionalism within the party makes succession messy. As it took in two Congress MLAs, dissidence within its ranks rose. Former BJP chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar was one of those who spoke out to local TV networks against the developments.

Till this week, the BJP had just 14 of its own MLAs in the 40-seat assembly and depended on two other parties, the once-dominant MGP and the newish Goa Forward, both of whose leaders are ambitious. Their support comes at a price – prominent ministries.

In the past week, the BJP wore its bravado on its sleeve and lured the two Congress legislators, who were “convinced” to vacate their seats. This took attention away from Parikkar’s condition.

In BJP style, its supporters lambasted Congress for again moving too slowly and doing nothing. Congress can be accused of many things, including its inability to play a decent opposition role. But the BJP’s willingness to go to any extent to retain power leaves Congress few options. This echoes the Congress predicament in Goa in the 1990s. Then, too, 2-4 legislators could create chaos in the small assembly, and the decade saw governments toppled often.

Political manipulation

In those years, it was the mismatch between the parties ruling Delhi and Panaji that caused much of the turmoil. Rebels here got emboldened when they knew that Delhi would allow them to topple elected governments through just a few defections.

That came to a close sometime after 2000 when, incidentally, the BJP toppled a minority government that it was supporting. Now, once again, the ruling party’s urge to stay in power and Congress leaders’ utter lack of character is leading to political manipulation and dismay. Instead of the “loyal soldiers of the Congress” mantra of yesteryears, now it is politicians like BJP chief Amit Shah who are seen as the sole decision-makers and purveyors of Goa’s fate.

Oddly, the main players being now mentioned as possible successors to Parikkar as CM are those from the BJP’s allies or recent defectors to the party. Vishwajit Rane is the son of Pratapsing Rane, a Congress chief minister of the 1980s and who is still a legislator; Sudin Dhavalikar is an MGP leader, whose party once championed the merger of Goa with Maharashtra; Vijay Sardesai is a member of the newly formed Goa Forward party; Pramod Sawant and Michael Lobo are younger BJP leaders whose names have come up in conflicting ways.

Years of hanging on to power at any cost -- by politicians of all sides -- have brought in a set of rather dubious players into the political game. The latest aggravation of the situation might actually seem like a solution. But a small-time contractor settled here from rural North Karnataka put it bluntly. “It’s the people’s curse,” he says in the local Konkani language, trying to explain why half-a-dozen Goa legislators were in hospital, coping with rather serious ailments.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Goa)

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