Goa Election 2017: Manohar Parrikar is not the larger-than-life popular leader he was five years ago

A sidelight of a journey across Goa during the just-concluded election campaign is the discovery that Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar does not retain his earlier status as a larger-than-life leader of contemporary Goa.

Nobody speaks of him as the one who inspires them — not one in a series of conversations with voters during a journey that has taken one through more than half of Goa’s 40 constituencies over the past fortnight, from Mandrem in the far north to Carmona in the south, and from east of Ponda to Vasco Da Gama at the western end of Mormagao.

Even die-hard BJP supporters speak of their support for their party, or for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not to the current or former chief minister of their state. In fact, whatever anti-incumbency sentiment there is on the ground (much less than in 2012, to be sure) focuses on disappointment with Parrikar rather than his successor, Laxmikant Parsekar. The fact is that hopes were pegged extremely high in 2012, when Parrikar led his party to a resounding victory. There was a huge wave of anti-incumbency anger in Goa at that time, over the perception that the venality, corruption and contempt for legal norms had hit a nadir under the Congress.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar showing his indelible ink marked finger after casting his vote at a polling booth in Goa on Saturday. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar showing his indelible ink marked finger after casting his vote at a polling booth in Goa on Saturday. PTI

Inclusive Parrikar compact

In that context, Parrikar’s image as a clean, efficient leader (from his earlier stint as chief minister about a decade before) made him a focus of great hope. A large proportion of Christians, who had traditionally been very uneasy about the BJP, voted for the Parrikar-led BJP in 2012. Many observers held that even the Catholic Church hierarchy seemed to have signalled its backing for Parrikar at that time.

The fact that Parrikar has sought to keep a tight leash on the state unit even after he was persuaded — apparently against his preference — to shift to New Delhi in the last quarter of 2014 may have been a bad move. He made the move on a day when powerful figures in the state BJP were not in Goa. Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza, for example, was in London when he received the news that Parrikar was being replaced by Parsekar.

D’Souza revolted briefly but then fell in line. However, the image that seniority — and a Christian leader — had been overlooked has had an effect. Elvis Gomes, the Aam Aadmi Party’s nominee for chief ministership, says the BJP’s 'hate' for 'certain communities' became unambiguously obvious the day the deputy chief minister was ignored.

Unkept promises

The main reason for Parrikar’s loss of popularity is the widespread perception that he did not keep many of the promises he made during the 2012 poll campaign. Ironically, those were unnecessary promises; the strong anti-incumbency sentiment would probably have swept him to power even without all those promises. Be that as it may, Parrikar promised with emphatic rhetoric to shut down Goa’s casinos. Not only has that not happened, the industry has expanded. This has upset many conservative Christian and other Goans.

If issues such as these put paid to the support Parrikar had from Christian Goans in the 2012 elections, other issues have hurt him within his party’s strongest traditional support base. For instance, followers of the state’s longtime RSS strongman, Subhash Velingkar, turned against him for not stopping aid to schools that use English as the medium of instruction.

The unspoken target of their demand is diocesan schools run by the Catholic Church. They demand that only those private schools that use Marathi or Konkani as the medium of instruction should get government aid. For them, it is a vital issue of nurturing and safeguarding identity.

Double-edged sword of honour

The open assertion by BJP national president Amit Shah at a press conference in Panjim on 23 January that Parrikar would control the state unit, whether he remained in Delhi or in Panjim, has been widely interpreted as an indication that Parrikar might return as chief minister if the BJP wins the state elections. The national leadership’s strong projection of Parrikar as the Goa BJP’s overarching leader has certainly ensured that Parrikar will be able to take credit in case the BJP wins these elections. He might take the opportunity to try and replace Parsekar — either taking the job himself, or installing a yes-man; a new chief minister would not be able to claim independent elbow room based on having won a mandate.

There is of course also the outside chance that the party’s central leadership might use this projection to push Parrikar to return and lead the state unit of the party in case the party were to lose. The argument that he would be in the best position to reinvigorate the party could be strongly pushed, in light of the way he has been projected during the elections.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 14:31 PM

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