Former Defence Minister and current Goa CM Manohar Parrikar, is reportedly taking time off from his duties as Goa’s Chief Minister due to his treatment for an ongoing Pancreatic ailment. Over the past few months, Parrikar has travelled to the US for his treatment and has fulfilled his duties as Goa CM’s using technology. However, now it seems, he may have decided to let his treatment take a front seat.
There are 2 distinct possibilities here at play:
A. Parrikar continues as CM, albeit with no charge and all his portfolios are redistributed to ensure all ministries function.
B. Parrikar resigns as CM and a new face is appointed.
Whereas Option A seems easy, practically it might be a challenge to run a Government without a CM in the state, even though he has no real duties per se.
Option B is going to be something very difficult to manage for the BJP.
Going back to last year, when this coalition Government in Goa was formed, politically opposite parties like the Goa Forward Party (GFP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP, along with independents, chose to ally with BJP with just 13 seats (as compared to Congress with 17), only on the condition that Manohar Parrikar be the CM. He was seen as the only acceptable face for a BJP led coalition, and hence he was sent to Goa from Delhi.
Now, the very face which enabled BJP to conquer Goa is in jeopardy. And as a corollary, the BJP led Government is also on a sticky wicket.
As things stand, Goa does not have a Deputy Chief Minister. This post was probably not filled to avoid controversy over who should be the Deputy CM: next in line BJP minister Francis D’Souza? MGP leader Sudin Dhavlikar? GFP leader Vijai Sardesai? Hence, when Parrikar was in the US for his treatment, instead of a single person, the above 3 people were drafted into a Cabinet Advisory Committee (CAC).
Now, as Parrikar is out of action. These 3 people come into focus by default. Unfortunately for BJP, D’Souza is not an option as he himself is in the US for treatment, and is not expected back anytime soon.
This has prompted MGP President Deepak Dhavlikar, to prop up his brother Sudin’s name. “It is high time Parrikar hands over the charge to the senior-most minister for [the] smooth functioning of the government” he is reported to have said, hinting at his brother.
This move but will not go down well with alliance partner GFP’s leader Sardesai who has said, “It is not necessary that the second senior most minister has to be made the CM”. Not only will it diminish Sardesai’s and GFP’s status (who have the same number of MLAs as MGP), MGP is also ideologically far away from GFP. Another alliance partner, and minister in the state Government, independent MLA Govind Gaude has also objected to this move by MGP. The reason for this is: Gaude is a bitter rival of the Dhavlikar brothers and had won in 2017, by defeating one of them.
There is also talk of getting MGP merged into the BJP, since the two are not too far on an ideological stance. This would pave the way for Sudin to become a BJP CM. This move though has been rejected by MGP leaders. Such a move would finish any sort of bargaining power MGP has in the future, by virtue of being kingmaker.
The BJP’s other options within are bleak. BJP’s Minister Pandurang Madkaikar is also sick after a brain stroke. Even a fit Madkarikar may not have been considered considering he has been a recent import into the BJP and is not seen as an efficient administrator. The other 2 ministers from BJP are Mauvin Godinho and Vishwajeet Rane. Both are Congressmen inducted into BJP recently, and they may go against them. In spite of this, Rane is said to have launched a bid for the CM’s post, which has irked other alliance partners.
Out of the other MLAs BJP has, most of them are considerably “junior” with little or no experience. None of them can be said to be a pan-Goa face, like Parrikar.
Sardesai for CM might be too much of a deviation for the BJP, from its core ideological stance, and as of now, he is not a contender at all. He will though have a major say in the developments, holding 3 MLAs, in a state which needs 21 MLAs to form a Government.
Now, the BJP may have to explore options such as its Lok Sabha MPs from Goa. First up is North Goa MP Sripad Naik. He is probably the second senior most BJP leader in Goa, after Parrikar. He has been Union Minister in both NDA Governments and can be considered to have a Pan-Goa appeal.
However, he is not seen as a shrewd politician who is able to handle the requirements of such a tricky alliance. Moreover, he was demoted in the Central ministry, from Tourism to AYUSH ministry, indicating that Modi doesn’t have much faith in him. He may have been retained as a minister, only due to seniority. Worse, he doesn’t enjoy a great relationship with Parrikar. It is believed that this strain stemmed from the repeated attempts by Naik to re-enter Goan politics, often causing embarrassment to Goa BJP and Parrikar. Most recently in August, Naik had told the press that Goa BJP leaders planned to meet BJP leadership in Delhi, over change in Goa’s CM. Eventually, the meet never happened as the other Goa BJP leaders returned to Goa after meeting Parrikar in a Mumbai hospital.
South Goa MP Narendra Sawaikar could emerge as the dark horse, at least from BJP’s stable. He is a first time MP but is fairly non-controversial. If he can be worked as the compromise candidate, he could fit the bill. He has an RSS background, hence would not be an issue for BJP. Convincing allies might be a different ball game though.
Finally, BJP may have the option of importing someone from Congress. Rumour mills were abuzz over past few weeks that former Congress CM Digambar Kamat may rejoin BJP, with some other Congress MLAs. Kamat was a senior BJP minister but jumped ship to Congress in 2005. Kamat’s biggest drawback is that he is synonymous with Goa’s mining scam. He continuously held the Mining portfolio across Congress and BJP Governments, when the scam was said to have peaked. One of Parrikar’s plank for 2012 elections, was to bring to book, the mining scam accused. How will that go on if Kamat becomes the CM?
If no solution is workable, what happens? The Congress has 16 MLAs and needs only 5 to form a Government. But the Congress is a divided house, with intra-party tensions often simmering onto the public forum. This lack of unity, was one of the main reasons why they failed to form the Government in 2017, although they were the single largest party with 17 MLAs. The allies refused to deal with such a divided party. Will they change now?
MGP (3 MLAs) has in the past allied with Congress and thus would probably have no major issues in rejoining Congress. GFP (3 MLAs), fought the elections on an anti-BJP plank, so Congress could be considered a more natural ally. However, GFP leader Sardesai is deeply suspicious of Congress, as its leadership thwarted him often when he was part of the Congress. The others include 1 NCP MLA and 3 independents, who on paper, may not be too averse to ally with Congress.
But can the Congress make it happen? A divided local unit, coupled with an uninspiring central leadership, versus the shrewd combination of Modi and Amit Shah. Sounds like a cliff-hanger. Only time will tell which direction Goa will head in.