Goa bypolls: Manohar Parrikar makes bold move, picks Panaji seat to boost BJP morale

Panaji: Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has decided to take the bull by the horns and contest the tricky Panaji seat to enter state legislative Assembly.

Parrikar, who took over as Goa chief minister on 14 March, is still a member of Rajya Sabha. According to rules, he has to become a member of the Assembly within six months.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

While Parrikar had the option of seeking election from a comparatively safer seat, his decision to return to his traditional Panaji constituency that he had won five times in a row since 1994 has taken many by surprise. Once seen as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stronghold, BJP barely managed to retain Panaji seat in February assembly polls by a slender margin with its nominee Sidharth Kuncalienkar winning the seat by 1069 votes by defeating the Congress supported United Goans Party (UGP) chief Atanasio Monserrate. Kuncalienkar was among half a dozen BJP MLAs who had offered to resign from the assembly to facilitate Parrikar’s entry.

Goa will witness by-election for at least two seats. Congress legislator Vishwajit Rane had resigned from the assembly and party on 16 March, the day the Parrikar government proved its majority in the hung assembly. Rane has since joined the BJP and was rewarded with a cabinet berth in Parrikar government as health minister. He will seek re-election from the Valpoi seat that he first won in 2007 as an independent.

Initially, it appeared that Parrikar may accept Curchorem MLA Nilesh Cabral’s offer to resign from the Assembly. The general consensus within the BJP was that Parrikar going back to Panaji was not a risk worth taking. The party left the final decision for Parrikar who opted for Panaji with a valid logic and some manoeuvring.

Parrikar did not want to be seen as unsure about his chances. Moreover, contesting Panaji seat was the only way to lift sagging morale of party workers ever since BJP ended up winning just 13 seats in the 40-member Goa assembly.

And trust Parrikar for doing some political manipulation. He is understood to have won over Monserrate who has of late changed his tone. While initially, he announced his resolve to contest Panaji seat if it went to bypoll, Monserrate has changed his stance with one of his close aides suggesting that he is not keen on contesting bypolls. This may mean smooth sailing for Parrikar considering Monserrate, popularly known as Babush, is both popular and formidable. He had shifted from the neighbouring Taleigao seat to Panaji to block Parrikar’s possible return to Goa politics. But the move backfired. While his wife Jennifer won the Taleigao seat as a Congress candidate, Monserrate lost narrowly.

BJP circles are abuzz with talks that Jennifer may join the BJP like Rane and Monserrate may ask Santa Cruz MLA Tony Fernandes, whom he had loaned to the Congress party, to resign from the Assembly. Monserrate may in that case contest that seat with BJP’s support.

Knowing fickle nature of Goa’s politics, one can expect the unexpected. Parrikar has already silenced some of his bitter critics including Rane, Goa Forward Party mentor Vijai Sardesai and independent Rohan Khaunte by making them all cabinet ministers and giving the portfolios of their choice. One of the reasons BJP decided to send Parrikar, who was serving as defence minister at the centre, back to Goa was to club up majority after the state elected yet another hung assembly. Besides being popular and seen as an honest politician, Parrikar is known for his man-management skills. BJP would like to increase its numbers in the Assembly as much as possible and replace Congress as the single largest party.

The Congress party has already announced that it will field its own candidates in bypolls for the Goa Assembly. It has made it clear that if Monserrate intends to take on Parrikar, then he must join the Congress party first.

A formal announcement about Parrikar’s constituency is expected to be made after 9 May when the state assembly meets to pass the GST Bill.

Goa assembly bypolls are expected to take place towards August-end or first week of September. BJP does not intend to take any risk in view of the July presidential elections where every vote will count with BJP in with a real chance of having its nominee become President of India for the first time ever. Until then Parrikar will retain his Rajya Sabha membership. In fact, how Goa votes during the presidential election may indicate the shape of things to follow in Goa politics.

Updated Date: May 06, 2017 19:56 PM

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