Goa Election 2017: Laxmikant Parsekar walks a tightrope as Manohar Parrikar steals thunder

Panaji: He looks cool enough as he walks into his party office in Mandrem, his home constituency, sporting a smart blue waistcoat. And when he speaks, he is measured, politically savvy.

But that is only a measure of how well Goa’s Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, is coping with an extremely exacting and strenuous round of assembly elections. He has been the chief minister for less than half the five-year term, but he must face whatever anti-incumbency sentiment has gathered over these five years - most of it resulting from promises his predecessor made when he led the previous campaign.

 Goa Election 2017: Laxmikant Parsekar walks a tightrope as Manohar Parrikar steals thunder

Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar.

Perhaps that is what causes Parsekar to refer to him as just that, 'my predecessor' - even though Parsekar is generally viewed as the handpicked successor of his once all-powerful predecessor. When I ask specifically about the legacy of that predecessor, current Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the chief minister talks of Manoharji and Sripadji, clubbing Parrikar with Sripad Naik, the other Union minister from the state. They are both sons of the soil, says Parsekar, and both are senior to him.

He is cautious when I ask who is the face of the BJP’s campaign in Goa - he as chief minister, Parrikar or Modi. He talks of team work, adding cautiously that he takes the benefit of Manoharji, Sripadji, and 'the image of the honourable prime minister' too. Clearly, leading the party in Goa is a tightrope walk - during which one must be careful not to step on any knots.

Parsekar credits the Modi government for releasing funds for the third Zuari bridge - Rs 3,000 crore. It is evidently a favourite programme with the ruling party in the state.

Anti-incumbency issues

Some of the disappointment concerning the previous poll promises pertain to environmental issues. Mining has been stopped, but other concerns remain. When I ask about these, Parsekar speaks of maintaining 'a proper balance’ on the environment and development.

The other issue that looms over this round of elections is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the BJP. Parrikar’s great achievement five years ago was to build a general anti-Congress compact on the twin issues of corruption and the environment - a compact which subtly brought the Church on board to back the BJP.

When I ask about general unease about unkept promises, and the opposition’s campaign about it being a 'U-turn government', Parsekar asserts that most poll promises have been kept. Only 'one or two things probably we could not comply, but most of the things, we have complied,' he says.

He turns instead to talk enthusiastically of a major welfare initiative he has taken, which was not even in the previous election’s manifesto or set of poll promises - a huge health insurance cover, to the tune of Rs 4 lakh per family. The state government pays the premium, he explains, and all citizens of the state benefit. The scheme is named for the late Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.

The scheme does not appear to have had the desired result in terms of electoral dividends, though. For, one does not find people on the street, even in Parsekar’s constituency, talking of the government-sponsored health insurance. Perhaps it will be of as little use to the BJP in Goa as Obamacare health insurance was for the Democratic Party in the recent US elections.

Hard battle

It is an indication of the tough fight the BJP faces that Parsekar spends a lot of his time in his own constituency - routinely until 11 pm, if not later. It is a tough fight, even for him.

Indeed, there is very little public enthusiasm for the campaign, on any side. And there is very little evidence of publicity material - except for an occasional Aam Aadmi Party procession of one vehicle and a few dozen cap-, broom- and flag-wielding activists in procession.

Parsekar talks of his slow and steady rise from the time he lost his deposit in the 1980s to his gaining more and more votes until he won thrice consecutively from the Mandrem constituency in the northwestern corner of the state.

His three terms have coincided with the construction of a new bridge from Siolim to the north, which brought far more tourists flocking to the Morjim, Ashwem and Arambol beaches - all of which are in Mandrem constituency. That western strip of Mandrem near the sea has seen an unprecedented boom over the past decade.

However, random conversations with voters in different parts of the constituency indicates that, even if Parsekar wins a fourth term, he is not going to be a shoo-in despite being the chief minister. The Congress has regained ground, and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Aam Aadmi Party are also in the fray - although Parsekar discounts the last.

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 18:13:22 IST