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How The BJP's Man In Goa, Manohar Parrikar, Went From Kar Sevak To Chief Minister
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2018-09-26 19:42:30 UTC
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How The BJP's Man In Goa, Manohar Parrikar, Went From Kar
Sevak To Chief Minister

The IIT Bombay
alumnus who travelled
to Ayodhya for the
Babri Masjid
demolition brought
the right-wing BJP to
power in a state that
celebrated its
acceptance of
different cultures.

Pamela D'Mello
***@gmail.com

On Sunday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah said
that Manohar Parrikar, who is currently being treated for
advanced pancreatic cancer, will remain the chief minister of
Goa. The opposition Congress had staked claim to power in the
62-year-old's absence, and even the BJP's allies were growing
impatient at the delay in finding a "long-term" solution.

[PHOTO: Parrikar
resigned as defence
minister last year so
that the BJP could
form a government in
Goa under his
leadership. AMIT DAVE
/ REUTERS]

While it is not clear when Parrikar will be able to take
charge of Goa again, what is evident is that the BJP is
struggling to handle its leadership vacuum in the state. This
doesn't come as a surprise -- after all, Parrikar resigned as
defence minister last year so that the BJP could form a
government in Goa under his leadership. But how did the IIT
Bombay alumnus emerge as the go-to man for a right-wing party
in a state that celebrated its acceptance of different
cultures? And how has that acceptance changed under his watch?

Ayodhya To Panjim

On a winter afternoon in 1992, Parrikar and three
others entered the press room of the Panjim
secretariat, which faces the Mandovi river, to
recount their experience of travelling as kar
sevaks to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Parrikar was mostly silent during that informal
press interaction. At the time, Goa was distinctly
cocooned from all communal bedlam -- minority
baiting was unheard of. In a state that was then
fiercely proud of its live-and-let-live amity and
syncretic culture, it was considered uncultured,
uncool and un-Goan to publicly speak of religious
differences with anything less than respect.

Twenty six years later, most of those values stand diluted.

In 2006, a madrasa was demolished and the houses of Muslims
attacked over three days, while 40 accused, including two BJP
office bearers, were acquitted by a court for lack of
evidence. The Sanatan Sanstha, which was investigated in a
bomb blast in Margao in 2009, operates proudly out of its
headquarters in the temple taluk of Ponda. Its main political
patron Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavalikar, a five-time MLA from
Marcaim, was proposed to become Parrikar's successor, and
Sanatan Prabhat, the Sanstha's daily newspaper, has been
getting Goa government advertisements for years.

It was in 1994 that Parrikar and the BJP first entered the
Goa Assembly. With 39-year-old Parrikar were his fellow RSS
cadre Shripad Naik (currently the Union minister for AYUSH)
and Digambar Kamat (who rejoined the Congress in 2005 and
later became chief minister). The RSS was a fledgling force
in the state then, while the soft-saffron regional
Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, then the biggest opposition
party, was pursuing an anti-brahmin, pro-bahujan samaj
position. But Parrikar, who hails from the well-networked and
influential Gaud Saraswat Brahmin caste, quickly overshadowed
the MGP in the opposition benches. After the next election in
1999, he became the leader of the opposition in the Goa
Assembly.

"He is hardworking, sincere, a workaholic. As opposition
leader he was so sharp, agile and incisive in his arguments.
He made a mark for meticulously looking at the numbers,
detailing corrupt deals of the then government," said BJP
state general secretary Sadanand Shet Tanavade.

The image of an anti-corruption crusader was
further established when, in a career-defining move
as Goa's first BJP chief minister in 2000, Parrikar
had three former Congress ministers arrested for
"scams".

"He came as a breath of fresh air. People were fed up of the
Congress and he got good coverage in the press.
Unfortunately, he soon surrounded himself with hangers-on in
the media. But he made his name as an anti-corruption
crusader in his first term and that image served him for a
long time," said Raju Nayak, editor of Marathi daily Lokmat.

He came as a breath of fresh air. People were fed up of the
Congress and he got good coverage in the press Each of
Parrikar's terms at the helm -- 2000-2002, 2002-2005,
2012-2014 and 2017 -- was marked by police action, arrests
and investigations against a slew of Congress leaders. In
later years, this took the form of a ruthless witch-hunt that
kept the opposition fearful and enfeebled, the threat of
police investigations rendering the critical institution of
the opposition ineffective in a parliamentary democracy.

"Cases have been kept hanging over politicians for
years. But why take people into custody for matters
that can be decided by documents? Politics
shouldn't be run through revenge and
vindictiveness," said political analyst and lawyer
Cleofato Almeida Coutinho.

It's ironic, therefore, that as Parrikar is being
treated at New Delhi's All India Institute of
Medical Sciences, he may be added as a party to a
Goa Lokayukta case on a Rs 1.44 lakh crore mining
lease renewal investigation that involves a 2014
decision taken by his cabinet.

In Goa's capricious political scene, Parrikar bested the
Congress -- whose leadership glut made it prone to mindless
toppling games -- more than once.

Power brings its own compromises, and Parrikar's
uber-effectiveness when in the opposition put him
in a spot when the BJP came to power in 2012 with a
majority. The party's inability to deliver on its
promises to evict casinos and recover illegal
mining money -- despite skewering the Congress on
these issues while in opposition -- got him dubbed
as a "U-turn CM". When Parrikar welcomed to his
party Mauvin Godinho, whom he had acted against in
2001 for corruption while the latter was in the
Congress, he described his own earlier charges as
"not a scam, but an attempt to scam".

"He's proved to be an ace strategist, not averse to
dissolving the house without cabinet approval as he did in
2002. One day the law could be set on opponents, the next day
a compromise could be worked out if it suited him. Small
parties that could eat into the Congress vote base were
adroitly positioned in past elections," said Coutinho. Such
was Parrikar's relationship with politicians such as
Churchill Alemao, Atanasio Monserrate and Francisco Pacheco.

'Transforming' Goa

Parrikar's decisive approach to time-bound project management
catapulted him to national attention soon after he became
chief minister for the first time.

"Parrikar has a vision for a new Goa, takes bold
decisions, undertaking massive infrastructure
projects that have transformed Goa and strengthened
connectivity with dozens of bridges. The
development of Goa that started under Congress's
Pratapsingh Rane was taken a step ahead under
Parrikar and later Digambar Kamat," said Nitin
Kunkolienkar, former president of the Goa Chamber
of Commerce and Industry.

From 2012, Parrikar foregrounded the controversial Mopa
greenfield airport, four-laning of district roads and
widening of village roads, easing the way for industry and
real estate development in Goa to take off. Since 2015, he
enthusiastically supported the centre's Sagarmala and
Bharatmala projects -- eight-laning of the North-South and
East-West highways for container cargo traffic, a coal
corridor and nationalisation of Goa's rivers. Citizens and
NGOs protesting environmental degradation, deforestation and
displacement found themselves brushed off when the BJP was in
power and encouraged when the Congress was in office.

Political observers say that while Parrikar undoubtedly has
charisma, his immense self-belief can often blind him to
other opinions and possibilities.

He steamrolled domestic opposition to tear down
government buildings, including health facilities
and a football stadium, and pumped in Rs 100 crore
to deliver Goa as the permanent location of the
International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in
2004. Goa's IFFI never came anywhere close to the
Cannes gala it sought to clone -- the Comptroller
and Auditor General of India found "financial
irregularities" and "flawed tenders" in the 2004
festival -- but its aura positioned the state as
India's Riviera playground and Parrikar as the
lauded architect. National and international
realtors swooped on Goa, altering the political and
cultural landscape of the state.


AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Parrikar (right), actor Aamir Khan and others at the
inaugural ceremony of the IFFI in 2004.

"Although he is projected as a development man, I would call
it corruption-friendly development, undertaken even where not
required and through an unaccountable body bypassing the
Public Works Department. Smart city funds are being wasted in
Panjim city on sculptures and beautification, when in some
areas, people do not have two hours of potable water and
proper sanitation," says Goa Congress president Girish
Chodankar, who lost to Parrikar in the 2017 Panjim byelection.

Image Matters

"As a problem solver, negotiator and administrator, he can
unknot vexed issues. I've seen him wade into crowds with his
trademark casual unpressed bush shirt-trouser-floaters
ensemble -- that was part of his image from MLA to leader of
opposition, to chief minister to defence minister -- and talk
straight to the common man on the street, rather than take
his views from bureaucrats," said BJP South Goa MP Narendra
Sawaikar.

Parrikar's modest upbringing and Goa's comparatively
less-hierarchical society have served him well in his
interactions with Goans. He handpicked the most efficient
bureaucrats for his core team, worked out complex financial
relief packages when mining stopped, crafted cyber-age
computer schemes for teens and doles for housewives and
senior citizens -- all of these brought electoral dividends
for the BJP, though more recently, the schemes' mishandling
has come under criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor
General's office.

Once in a while, Parrikar's suave, polished mask would slip
and national attention would be drawn to the "brashness" most
Goans were already familiar with.

"Image matters a great deal to him. He has often
phoned me or some critic up to fire us for a press
article," said Lokmat's Nayak.

Still, Parrikar has had it easier than most politicians with
a local media that's increasingly pro-saffron. Critics also
point to the easing out of inconvenient editors and
journalists for more pliable ones.

Once in a while, Parrikar's suave, polished mask would slip
and national attention would be drawn to the "brashness" most
Goans were already familiar with.

In the power struggle within the BJP ahead of the 2014 polls,
Parrikar threw in his lot with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah --
his indecorous "rancid pickle" comment on senior leader LK
Advani in 2009 was a precursor of the rift that was to come.
In 2016, while Parrikar was defence minister, his churlish
"has to be taught a lesson of his life" reference to Aamir
Khan's comments on intolerance also received flak.

Parrikar's Legacy

"Parrikar's and the BJP's reign in Goa allowed the RSS to
increase its footprint of schools and institutions in Goa,"
said educationist Prabhakar Timble. Vidhya Bharati schools,
affiliated with the RSS, have been increasing in Goa.

The issue of control of schools has been lurking beneath the
surface in Goa, with the RSS pitted against the Roman
Catholic Church.

Government grants to 130 Archdiocese-run schools had blown up
into a major conflict between Parrikar and his RSS mentor,
the dismissed Goa Vibhag Sangh Chalak Subhash Velingkar, in
2016. Parrikar was defence minister at the time, but visited
the state almost every weekend, and was still considered to
hold the reins.

In 2001, he had had to backtrack on his attempt to hand over
non-functional government primary school premises to saffron
trusts when liberals across communities opposed the move.
Other moves to heighten the divisive pitch and polarise
politics in Goa -- distribution of videographed
anti-Christian history to schools, attempts to cancel
Christian and Muslim holidays including Gandhi Jayanti -- all
effected under Parrikar, got a pushback from citizens.

Despite moves to polarise society, Goa's composition --
Christians comprising 25% and Muslims 8% -- meant the BJP
repeatedly failed to gain a majority on its own, until the
party and Parrikar effected an image makeover designed
exclusively for Goa.

This meant downplaying the national BJP's
anti-minority hawkishness, sheathing its Hindutva
image and later, pointedly keeping Ram Sene chief
Pramod Muthalik out of Goa. Parrikar also
cultivated a section of Christian upper-caste
business and professional elites, did photo-ops
with the Archbishop, and offered a chunk of seats
to lightweight, amateur Christian politicians whose
business interests needed a political crutch. The
strategy worked -- BJP got 21 out of 40 seats in
2012, and eight of its MLAs were Christians. Even
in 2017, though the BJP's count plummeted to 13
seats, Christian legislators formed more than half
its tally. With some nimble alliance-building,
backed by a BJP government at the centre, Parrikar
kept the Congress out of power though it was the
single largest party.

"He may be a hero to some, but he has destroyed democracy in
Goa. Even in co-operative and local body elections, the
attitude is that either my nominee wins or the institution
suffers. Police and government machinery will be used to
crush all opponents, by foul, illegal and immoral means.
Democratic norms have been thrown to the wind so many times
in assembly to see that power does not go to someone else.
All competition is destroyed and this is more prevalent in
his own party, where anyone who raises questions either did
not survive or did not grow." says Chodankar.

While Parrikar has built up and dominated the BJP in Goa,
there is growing pressure from bahujan samaj groups and its
party cadre for greater roles for leaders such as Naik. Right
now, as Goa waits to see what will happen, there are only
murmurs within the party. But bahujan samaj leaders are
coalescing across party lines to demand greater access to the
top job.

* * *

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