Goa governance crisis

Unstable in Goa

Print edition : November 23, 2018

Manohar Parrikar returning to work at the Secretariat, Porvorim, after he came back from treatment in the United States, on June 15. Photo: Atish Pomburfekar

At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on October 16, Subhash Shirodkar (left) and Dayanand Sopte (centre), who left the Congress to join the BJP, with Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s health situation has brought governance in the State to a standstill and set off political power games.

BHARATIYA Janata Party (BJP) leader and Goa’s Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, 62, has been seriously unwell for most of this year and has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although Parrikar is apparently clearing files and holding meetings, his illness has mostly confined him to bed and sent Goa’s politics and administration into a tailspin.

Apparently, the BJP high command is unwilling to let him step down. According to informed sources, Parrikar ran a tight ship and was accepted by both allies and the opposition. If he is replaced, it will disturb the precarious political balance and the BJP may lose power.

In the revolving door of Goan politics, the Congress came out as the largest party with 17 seats in the 40-member Assembly in the 2017 election. The BJP won just 13. However, with the Congress bumbling, the BJP seized the opportunity and tied up with the Goa Forward Party (three seats), the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (three seats) and independents (three seats). This allowed the saffron party to cross the halfway mark and form the government.

It is believed that the BJP is unsure about who should replace Parrikar. The incumbent Chief Minister had the calibre to lead the State and keep it politically stable. He was Defence Minister in the Narendra Modi-led government when he was brought back to the State. The BJP knows that without Parrikar the party will not be on a strong footing in the State.

There have been reports about the BJP trying to woo Congress MLAs to its side. People Frontline spoke to say the MLA hunting is truly in bad taste and that the State is in chaos because of Parrikar’s condition. The BJP is worried more about losing power than about its failure to focus on the State’s well-being, said Francis Almeida, a Congress worker and restaurant owner in Mapusa.

Given the unpredictability of Parrikar’s health, the BJP has once again cocked a snook at the Congress by convincing Dayanand Sopte and Subhash Shirodkar, two senior Congress MLAs, to defect and join it. It is rumoured that three more Congress MLAs are being lured.

“It is a masterstroke,” said Elison D’Cruz of Goa Forward Party. “They want to get a majority because they know we [allies] only went with the BJP because of Parrikar.”

According to D’Cruz, the move is typical of Goan politics—opportunism at its best. Incidentally, Sopte had won against former BJP Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar from the Mandrem constituency in the last Assembly election. “I heard Parsekar is so furious that he may join the Congress. But having lost the vote he has no value,” said D’Cruz.

Shirodkar is a former president of the Pradesh Congress Committee. He has held prestigious portfolios in every Congress government since the time of Pratapsingh Rane’s chief ministership. “Clearly, he has no faith in the present Congress and grabbed the offer when the BJP made it. No loyalty at all,” said D’Cruz.

Political matters aside, more significant is the tardy administration in the State. A government official said on condition of anonymity that nothing was moving in the State. It is a virtual shutdown in the Cabinet.

The Congress has repeatedly charged that over the past few months the Chief Minister has not been discharging his duties, leading to the current mess in the State. It was because of its threat to go to court unless the BJP spoke about Parrikar’s condition and the situation within the Cabinet that Goa Health Minister Vishwajit Rane revealed that Parrikar was suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Rane told the media that Parrikar was spending some “peaceful time” with his family, adding that “the Congress is going after his life unnecessarily”. The last public appearance of Parrikar was in August before he left for the United States for treatment. On his return he was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. He returned to Goa in early October but has not attended office. He prefers to work from home, say party workers.

Both national parties have realised that matters in the State need careful handling. With an eye on the 2019 general elections, the BJP is bent on retaining the two critical Lok Sabha seats it won in Goa in 2014. In Lok Sabha and State elections it is anyone’s game in Goa.

Should Parrikar’s health not permit him to continue in office, the main contender for the Chief Minister’s job is Vinay Tendulkar, the current president of the BJP’s Goa unit. Pramod Sawant, the current Speaker of the Assembly and a senior Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh leader, also stands a chance. North Goa Member of Parliament Shripad Naik, who is Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, is also a major claimant for the post. Naik belongs to the Other Backward Classes which gives him an edge over the others.

Recently, slighted by the BJP high command’s manoeuvring, Parsekar took on Tendulkar in a public spat and said he would defeat the entire bunch of them in the byelection. “Parrikar kept it under control. It is very unlikely for the BJP top brass to fall apart. It is a highly organised party. This is a sample of what is going on and I believe the BJP will suffer in the 2019 election if they do not improve the situation,” said Edwin Fonseca, president of the All India Catholic Union. Fonseca, who lives in North Goa, added: “We are the only State without a Chief Minister. It is better they dissolve the government. But they [the BJP] know they can’t form another government without Parrikar. People had placed their faith in him, not the party.” Fonseca says all major projects such as mining and issues with regard to fishing and garbage collection are at a standstill because of a non-functional Cabinet. The BJP government had promised to resume mining, which was banned in the State.

Another issue concerns fishermen. Lakhs of fishermen have been stopped from selling and exporting fish because of inspections for high levels of formalin, a carcinogenic cadaver preservative, in fish. Their licences are being recalled. “These are important matters in a small State like Goa. We need a stronger leadership,” said Fonseca.