Goa Assembly Election 2017: Lose-lose situation for Manohar Parrikar no matter the result

A frown replaces his trademark smile as soon as India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar lands at Dabolim Airport in his home state of Goa. The frown represents the tension building up inside him for some time. The defence minister finds himself pushed onto the back-foot in Goa, considering he is fully aware of the onerous task of guiding his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in the fast-approaching state legislative Assembly elections. (Goa will vote on 4 February, the Election Commission has just announced.)

Unlike the four other poll-bound states — Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur, the situation in Goa is different as the BJP is under pressure to retain power in a state it has been ruling for the past five years (Note: It shares power as a junior partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab). Emerging victorious in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur would only add feathers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cap, especially since the next round of state polls comes around almost mid-way through his five-year tenure and the first since his contentious demonetisation policy. But losing power in Goa may tantamount to rejection of Modi by voters.

Modi had granted Parrikar’s wish to let him name his successor as Goa chief minister when Modi requisitioned his services at the Centre as his new defence minister in November 2014. Parrikar was reluctant to leave Goa but Modi wanted someone like Parrikar with an impeccable record as a doer and untainted past. Following the existing political trend that you don’t handpick someone who can become a rival to you on a subsequent date, Parrikar settled for an unassuming Laxmikant Parsekar, who was serving as the health minister under him, to replace him at the helm in Goa.

 Goa Assembly Election 2017: Lose-lose situation for Manohar Parrikar no matter the result

File image of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

In a way, Parrikar followed Modi who had earlier that year handpicked Anandiben Patel as his successes in Gujarat as the chief minister, though not necessarily on her merit.

Parsekar was candid enough to admit after his unexpected promotion that it was a sort of on-the-job training for him. With Parsekar around, Parrikar was assured that he had anointed someone who could not match his aura and stature, and would make room for him should be is forced to return to the state politics. This was to ultimately make Parrikar function as 'Super Chief Minister of Goa', a role he has taken to rather seriously in the run-up to Assembly polls.

The safety cushion that Parrikar wished for, however, is proving thorny. Given the lacklustre performance of Parsekar and pollsters predicting that the BJP can, at the most, hope to emerge as the single largest party in a hung Assembly, the party has decided not to seek votes in the name of Modi, lest his image gets dented. It can’t afford to seek votes in the name of an uninspiring Parsekar either.

No incumbent BJP chief minister has ever faced this kind of ignominy in the past. Modi, while serving as Gujarat chief minister, knew all along that he would be the chief minister if he led BJP to power in polls, which he did repeatedly.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, chief ministers of other BJP-ruled states Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively, also never faced the uncertainty that Parsekar is facing now. The BJP has merely announced that it will go to polls under his leadership without saying that he will remain the Goa chief minister in the event of the party retaining power. The idea is to leave the Goa voters confused that the possibility of Parrikar returning as the Goa chief minister cannot be completely ruled out, even though it’s highly unlikely.

Parrikar thus has been left with no choice by the BJP but to do whatever he can to ensure BJP victory in Goa — India’s tiniest state with unbridled political potential to embarrass Modi and the BJP. As the clock ticks, Parrikar’s desperation is becoming visible. Of late he is spending more time in Goa than in Delhi, even though cross-border firing has not stopped on India’s northern borders. He is probably  left with no choice but to take centre-stage in Goa and act as its 'Super Chief Minister', irrespective of the fact that his party had, in the not-so-distant past, mocked the Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi as the 'Super Prime Minister' of the country during the regime of Modi’s predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh.

Parrikar has served Goa as its chief minister for close to seven years since he was first sworn-in on 24 October 2000. His contributions in BJP’s growth in Goa cannot be undermined as he along with Rajendra Arlekar, Speaker of the outgoing state Assembly, his fellow ministerial colleague Sripad Naik and Parsekar worked together as a team to make BJP a power to reckon with in the coastal south-western state.

Parrikar emerged as a successful strategist when despite the BJP emerging as the single largest party in a hung Assembly elected in 2007, he made no effort to stich-up a post-poll coalition. He opted to wait in the wings patiently and let the rival Congress party face pains and pressures of running a coalition government. He was wiser from his 2002 experience when as leader of the single largest party and sitting chief minister, he formed a coalition government. It did not function properly with his partners in power demanding pound of flesh, even if unethical. His government lasted lesser than three years then.

The strategy of sitting out of power in 2007 paid rich political dividends as BJP won a clear majority on its own five years down the line. The BJP won 21 seats despite contesting in only 27 constituencies in the 40-member Assembly as the senior partner in alliance with its now estranged ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP).

Parrikar, of late, can be seen losing his temper and shouting at probing journalists and locals demanding answers, appearing somewhat jittery as the polls approach.

He is considered to be the man who gave the final sanction to Parsekar to sack the two MGP ministers — the Dhavalikar brothers Ramakrishna (Sudin) and Pandurang (Deepak) — on 12 December from his council of ministers. Parrikar was out justifying the sacking publicly the next day, making none in doubt who had taken the final decision to snap ties with the MGP.

Speaking in his unofficial capacity as the 'Super Chief Minister of Goa', Parrikar was seen telling media that BJP had nothing to promise to Goa voters, as all promises made in 2012 stand fulfilled, although the state unit of the party and Parsekar did not go that far while seeking suggestions from the masses about issues to mention in the BJP manifesto.

The latest was his reaction that half of Goa would be wiped out if the Supreme Court ruling to close down all liquor shops located within 500 metres of National and State Highways from the first day of April was implemented. Since the closure of liquor shops and bars — restricting restaurants and hotels from serving alcohol if they happen to be located in the restricted zone anywhere in India — has become a major issue considering it will directly impact Goa’s money-spinning tourism industry, Parrikar lost no time in siding with the affected even as Parsekar was struggling with how to react to the apex court ruling.

"It is right that a person who drinks can cause accidents, but an alcoholic can even carry the bottle and drive on the highway," Parrikar said, virtually criticising the apex court and giving ideas to people, even though the Ministry of Defence that he heads would not be impacted by it.

Parrikar’s frown is getting deeper and more noticeable with each passing day. He knows that he has to pay the price for naming Parsekar as his successor, because he will not get credit in the unlikely event of the BJP getting a simple majority on its own yet again (and the credit would go to Modi), but he would get blamed for BJP’s defeat that, in turn, may have a bearing on his national ambitions — in case he has developed any since shifting to Delhi 26 months ago.

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2017 13:45:15 IST