Where is Goa go­ing? ADITI PHADNIS

The culling of key state lead­ers and bu­reau­crats has given rise to dis­trust and un­easi­ness in Pramod Sawant's style of func­tion­ing

Business Standard - - ISSUES AND INSIGHTS -

It took nearly six hours af­ter Goa Chief Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar ’s death to set­tle on a suc­ces­sor. Pramod Sawant was sworn in as Chief Min­is­ter at 2 am. The rea­son? In the 2017 Assem­bly elec­tions, the BJP got only 13 seats, four less than the Congress’ 17, in a house of 40. It was able to form a gov­ern­ment largely be­cause of the Congress lethargy and the spe­cial per­sua­sive pow­ers of Nitin Gad­kari and Par­rikar. On the back on un­spec­i­fied prom­ises made by Par­rikar to Ramkr­ishna “Sudin” Dhava­likar of the Ma­ha­rash­trawadi Go­man­tak Party (MGP) and Vi­jai Sarde­sai, men­tor of the Goa For­ward Party, the two helped

Par­rikar stay afloat. When Sawant was named the chief min­is­ter, they had a choice — they could ac­cept the ap­point­ment or sulk. Both sup­ported Sawant and for their ef­forts, were re­warded with deputy chief min­is­ter­ships. Goa at one point had a 12 mem­ber-coun­cil of min­is­ters — and two deputy chief min­is­ters!

But the two un­der­es­ti­mated Sawant. Within weeks of Par­rikar’s death, a group of 10 Congress MLAS, led by no less than Leader of Op­po­si­tion in the Assem­bly Chan­drakant Kavlekar, merged with the BJP, in­creas­ing its strength to 27. The Congress, the sin­gle­largest party af­ter the 2017 Assem­bly polls, is now down to five leg­is­la­tors.

Worse was to fol­low. Sawant sacked Sarde­sai and be­gan a bru­tal un­rav­el­ing of the legacy he claimed had been be­queathed to him by Par­rikar (“Bhai trans­ferred all his ‘josh’ (en­ergy) to me — that’s how I can work 15 to 16 hours a day,” he claimed last year). In an out­stand­ing book, An Ex­traor­di­nary Life: a Biog­ra­phy of Manohar Par­rikar, (see re­view in Busi­ness Stan­dard, July 14) the au­thors, two Goa jour­nal­ists, have an­a­lysed how Sawant has be­gun a pro­ject of putting his own im­pri­matur on Goa. Most of the in­di­vid­u­als who were stan­dard fix­tures in the gov­ern­ment when Par­rikar was alive were dropped. Dr Ma­hesh Sarde­sai, head of the Goa Med­i­cal Col­lege’s ra­di­ol­ogy depart­ment and also the fa­ther-in-law of Par­rikar’s son Ut­pal, was asked to re­tire. The two most im­por­tant gov­ern­ment lawyers — the ad­di­tional Solic­i­tor Gen­eral and the Ad­vo­cate Gen­eral, both Par­rikar’s per­sonal favourites — were re­placed.

Par­rikar ’s own pic­tures from the BJP’S pub­lic­ity ma­te­ri­als were dropped. Ut­pal was told to stay ready to be fielded from Panaji, the seat his fa­ther had held. In­stead, for long Par­rikar’s per­sonal sec­re­tary, Sid­harth Kun­calienker, was given the seat in an ap­par­ent di­vide-and-rule move within the fam­ily.

Par­rikar was a Gaud Saraswat Brah­min (GSB). Sawant is a Maratha. Most GSBS in gov­ern­ment now live in the agony of un­cer­tainty as to their fu­ture. Speak­ing to local re­porters, Pan­durang (alias Bhai) Naik, an in­flu­en­tial BJP leader from South Goa, pub­licly read out the names of eight GSB in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing politi­cians, ad­min­is­tra­tors, lawyers and doc­tors, closely linked to Par­rikar, who lost their of­fi­cial po­si­tion af­ter Sawant re­placed his as the Chief Min­is­ter. “Why is the Saraswat com­mu­nity be­ing tar­geted? Maybe I am the first per­son to bring it out so openly. I don’t know what ac­tion the BJP will take against me, but I am proud to be a Saraswat,” Naik said. He has been a mem­ber of the BJP’S na­tional ex­ec­u­tive and is cur­rently a mem­ber of the party’s state ex­ec­u­tive, the Goa BJP’S high­est de­ci­sion­mak­ing body. Of course, he doesn’t count for any­thing anymore, but Vi­jai Sarde­sai was blunt. At a pub­lic meet­ing last month, he said, “For us, the BJP is fin­ished af­ter the death of Par­rikar. We will never let the BJP rule this state in fu­ture.”

Ear­lier this month, Par­rikar ’s favourite bu­reau­crat, P Kr­ish­na­murthy, who was prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary of the state, was trans­ferred to Lak­shad­weep. When Par­rikar was di­ag­nosed with can­cer and flown to the US for treat­ment, it was Kr­ish­na­murthy he had au­tho­rised to sign files on his be­half, a move that was widely crit­i­cised. Be­fore that, when he was de­fence min­is­ter, Kr­ish­na­murthy moved with him to Delhi on an ap­point­ment for five years.

Af­ter Sawant was done with the peo­ple, it was time to re­vamp pol­icy. Sawant has over­hauled the Cy­ber­age pol­icy, a sig­na­ture move by Par­rikar to give free lap­tops and tablets to stu­dents, on the grounds that the equip­ment was be­ing “mis­used”.

Now, it is the Goa gover­nor who has called out Sawant. Af­ter hav­ing a meet­ing with Gover­nor Satya­pal Ma­lik, Sawant came out to say he had told him the gov­ern­ment was do­ing a fine job man­ag­ing the Covid-19 pan­demic and that the me­dia had it all wrong. Not at all, said the gover­nor, I said no such thing and I cer­tainly didn’t blame the me­dia. Sawant replied that the gover­nor was al­ways right.

The ques­tion is, where does that leave Goa.

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