Goa Election 2017: Putting Manohar Parrikar as BJP's go-to-man places party in win-win situation

The veil is finally off. Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar may have to shed the title of ‘super’ and settle down as the chief minister of India’s tiniest state if the ruling BJP manages to retain power in Goa.

Parrikar for all practical purposes is BJP’s undeclared chief ministerial candidate for the ensuing 4 February polling to elect the 40-member Goa State Legislative Assembly.

While Parrikar, of late, has been spending more time in Goa than in New Delhi, the veil finally came off earlier this week, when during an election rally in Vasco, BJP’s national president Amit Shah declared that Goa’s next government would function under Parrikar.

An astute politician that Shah is, the BJP chief sugar-coated his words by terming Parrikar as a jewel in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet. “There is a huge demand for Parrikar in Delhi and also here in Goa. People of Goa demand that we should send Parrikar back to Goa,” said Shah, who has been credited for masterminding BJP’s superlative performance as the then general secretary in-charge for Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 general elections. Shah was quick to leave a bit of suspense by stating that whether Parrikar remains in Delhi or returns to Goa, would be decided after the election.

 Goa Election 2017: Putting Manohar Parrikar as BJPs go-to-man places party in win-win situation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. File photo. PTI

“But I want to say one thing, wherever Parrikar may be, the government in Goa will be under his leadership. Goans should be assured of that,” Shah added, leaving no one in doubt as he did not bother to mention anything about the incumbent Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, though BJP had earlier announced that it would contest Goa election under his leadership.

It is amply clear that BJP has been somewhat rattled ever since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) started lampooning BJP and daring it to name its chief ministerial candidate after naming former bureaucrat Elvis Gomes as its chief ministerial candidate.

The AAP withdrew Parsekar’s picture that was placed alongside Gomes and asking Goa voters to decide who should be their next chief minister. Parsekar’s picture was dropped and replaced by a big question mark after BJP raised objections over it. The BJP was fully aware that Parsekar lacks the charisma in this comparison of personalities.

The BJP had come to the conclusion much earlier that Parsekar lacked the magnetism to lure voters. However, dropping him just months before polls would have been seen as BJP pressing the panic button and accepting defeat beforehand. And that was the time when Parrikar was sounded out that he must take charge of the government and the party unofficially and ensure BJP’s victory since loss of Goa would reflect badly on Modi's image, coming as it does after his contentious demonetisation policy. Since then Parrikar had started functioning as Goa’s 'super chief minister', often undermining Parsekar by taking all the major decisions and making announcements that the chief minister should have done in the run-up to the election.

Parsekar, without knowing what wrong did he do and often seen wondering aloud in public over why he has not been named as the chief ministerial face, is confined to his Mandrem constituency, lest his outside prospects of retaining the chair is dented by a defeat. Parrikar, on the other hand, is free from any such worry, since he is not contesting the ensuing polls.

BJP’s erstwhile ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) along with its allies Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM) and Shiv Sena is trying to topple BJP from Mandrem and Panaji, which happened to be Parrikar’s traditional constituency. The main opposition Congress party is lending its indirect support to ensure a huge embarrassment for the BJP by fielding a relatively weak candidate in Mandrem and supporting United Goan Party’s maverick leader Atanasio Monserratte in Panaji. The idea is to block possible entry of Parrikar through a by-election route from Panaji, in case he does become the next chief minister.

Emboldened by Shah’s decree, Parrikar has been leaving none in doubt by making an announcement a day like bringing metro rail to Goa or shifting the main bus stand from centre of Panaji city to the outskirts, and the like. On Tuesday, Parrikar virtually threw his hat in the ring by responding to a question by stating that the newly elected BJP lawmakers would elect their leader, giving no hint that his handpicked successor Parsekar would continue in the coveted chair.

One may get a second hint about Parrikar’s future role, when Modi addresses his scheduled rally in Goa on 28 January. If he talks as highly of Parrikar as Shah did, then no one should be left in doubt that Parrikar would be packing from Delhi for Panaji in March.

By pushing Parrikar to the forefront, BJP intends to keep the doors ajar for MGP and other smaller parties for a possible post-poll tie-up in case it falls just short of getting the majority on its own. The MGP broke ties with BJP after its demand to replace Parsekar as the chief minister went unheeded. Compared to Parsekar, Parrikar is seen as more acceptable and resourceful to negotiate and seal deals. Pollsters have already predicted that BJP may emerge as the single largest party in a hung Goa Assembly.

There are speculations that under the garb of Goa wanting Parrikar, Modi may be intending to get rid of Parrikar. He has thus far failed to distinguish himself as a federal minister and has often created embarrassing situations for Modi and BJP with his unhindered habit of shooting from the lips as the defence minister. The only saving grace for Modi is that true to his image of being above corruption, Parrikar has remained untainted despite heading the lucrative and cash-rich Defence Ministry.

The BJP strategy appears to be to insulate Modi from any possible blame for defeat in Goa. Putting Parrikar as the party’s go-to-man in Goa, thus puts BJP in a win-win situation. He is the best man to ensure BJP’s victory in Goa and at the same time take the blame quietly if the party falters in its quest for a second successive shot at power in the south-western coastal state.

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 20:32:31 IST