Manohar Parrikar Left a Huge Void in Goa’s Politics. Will Anyone Match His Stature?

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Manohar Parrikar Left a Huge Void in Goa’s Politics. Will Anyone Match His Stature?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In laidback Goa, politics never ceases. Not when the chief minister is battling a terminal illness and not even after he passes away.

The demise of Goa CM Manohar Parrikar after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer on Sunday, has left the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party in a volatile position ahead of the general elections. It took the Goa Congress only a couple of hours to write to Governor Mridula Sinha, expressing its willingness to stake claim to form government in the state. With 14 MLAs out of 40, it was now the single largest party in the state.

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In the 2017 state assembly elections, the BJP despite winning 13 seats, one less than the Congress, managed to cobble together a coalition with three MLAs of Goa Forward Party (GFP), three MLAs of Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP), and three independent MLAs, and staked a claim to the government, against the wishes of its people. However, as coalition partner MGP threatened to “not accept any other CM than Parrikar”, they knew very well that few could match Parrikar’s charisma and clout.

Parrikar at the time was serving as defence minister in New Delhi. He had overseen the surgical strikes in 2016, he signed the Rafale deal, and pushed for the modernisation of the ministry. He was having an eventful stint, yet his heart was in Goa. In his own words, “Delhi is not my area of operations.” So he stepped down as defence minister and returned to take charge of his home state for the fourth time.

Now with Parrikar’s demise, the Congress is on the front foot again.

The trouble with the BJP in Goa began after Parrikar was first diagnosed in February last year. After all, in the state, the party was synonymous with Parrikar. As he rose in stature, the fortunes of the party changed: When he had joined the party in the late 1980s, the BJP did not have a strong presence in the state. In 1991, he was appointed the general secretary after he contested the North Goa Lok Sabha seat and secured almost 25,000 seats. 

Parrikar’s absence has led to a leadership vacuum in the BJP.

“When Parrikar was contesting from the Panaji Assembly constituency in 1994, I went around and introduced him to people. I remember telling them, ‘Meet Manohar, he is our boy’,” recalls Subhash Velingkar, the then RSS chief of Goa and Parrikar’s mentor.

The Goa CM’s tryst with the RSS began in his school days and he continued being a pracharak even as he studied at IIT-Bombay. But it was his contribution to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that elevated him in the right-wing organisation and put him on the path to political power. Parrikar was working as an RSS pracharak for North Goa district since 1989 and had led a batch of karsevaks who travelled to Ayodhya in 1992 when Babri Masjid was demolished.

Parrikar made quick progress and with him, so did the BJP. The party first entered the Goa Assembly in 1994 and rose to the point where it gained majority in the 40-member assembly for the first time in 2012. For two decades, Parrikar had been the single, tallest leader in the Goa unit. In 2000, when he took charge as chief minister of Goa, he brought a semblance of stability to the Goan political landscape of the ’80s and ’90s, which had witnessed 13 governments change in just 12 years.  

Yet, Parrikar built his reputation on something different from the RSS’s narrow ideology. Ayodhya might have been a major turning point in his career, but he did not have the same inhibitions as others in the Sangh. Just before he plunged into politics, he had established a hydraulics factory with a Muslim partner. He also developed a strong bond with the Catholic community in Goa, visiting churches before filing nominations. Breaking away from his party’s policies, he reached out to the minority and OBC population in the state. The Church believed in his leadership, and the Muslim community in Goa turned to him for help after the beef ban.  

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But just when Parrikar was beginning to establish himself as a force to reckon with, getting three former Congress ministers arrested for “scams” soon after assuming charge as BJP’s first CM in Goa in 2000, he had a fallout with his long-time friend and guru Velingkar. Velingkar was unhappy after Parrikar failed to keep his promise of introducing Marathi and Konkani languages as medium of instruction in elementary education. But he fondly remembers the time Parrikar won in 2000. “Parrikar spent only ₹26,000 for campaigning and got elected. Our rival spent ₹50 lakh in trying to woo voters, but was defeated,” said Velingkar.

As CM of Goa, Parrikar was known for his decisiveness. He undertook several infrastructure projects to provide better connectivity to Goa and enabled it to become the permanent location of the International Film Festival of India in 2004. But post 2012, the man who was a people’s politician – who remembered the names of his voters – began to change. He was bogged down by the mining ban and this year, his name was dragged into a controversy related to the renewal of 88 mining leases in the state. In the last year or so, he worked with a close-knit group of administrators.

Yet, he never let his illness overcome him. In in his final months, he did not let go, delivering the state budget with tubes attached to his mouth and inaugurating bridges and winning crowds with a hearty, “How’s the josh?”  

Parrikar’s passing has left the BJP bereft – the party is now left scrambling for a reliable alternative. Rajendra Desai, a senior journalist and editor at Marathi Newspaper Dainik Herald, said, It was Parrikar Janata Party all through. BJP never had a chance to see the organic growth of the party under his leadership. He went on inducting leaders from other parties to form governments, and BJP leaders who lost elections disappeared. The party had several credible leaders who could rub shoulders with Parrikar, but where are they now?”

Parrikar’s absence has led to a leadership vacuum in the BJP. After a lot of persuasion, the BJP’s partners have accepted Goa Speaker Pramod Sawant to take over as the new CM. But Sawant has big shoes to fill. And all of Goa knows he is no Parrikar.

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