Goa elections: The 'Parrikar factor' and changing dynamics of a small state

by Rajesh Singh | 12 Feb 2017 10:40 PM
Goa has already voted for a new Assembly. From a national perspective, it’s a politically insignificant State. It sends just two MPs to the Lok Sabha (2.5 per cent as compared to Uttar Pradesh) and has 40 MLAs (10 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s House). And yet, there is a buzz this time which is disproportionate  to its political value. It is largely because of the Manohar Parrikar factor.

A little over two years ago, Parrikar was plucked out of Goa and brought to New Delhi as the country’s Defence Minister. But throughout, he has found time to keep visiting the State and taking active interest in its politics. Even Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar has admitted that Parrikar is the leader for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa. The election is, thus, seen as a referendum of his leadership.

There is another cause for the interest. A couple of senior BJP leaders have hinted at Parrikar’s return to the State if the party retains power. The Defence Minister himself has not ruled the possibility out. He has often remarked about ‘missing’ Goa. Lest something more be read into this statement, he clarified that he missed ‘Goan food’. Whatever, he is clearly missing the stature he had in Goa as Chief Minister.

One reason for this is that Parrikar has had a difficult time in New Delhi, and it has nothing to do with the weather conditions. By now, he must have got used to that. Besides, his penchant for dressing up casually, often donning sandals, too has been tempered. He is now dressed more formally, at least at defence-related events. Soon after joining and even before he could settle down, he had to grapple with a host of issues, none of which was of his making.

The controversy surrounding the incursion of a Pakistani vessel and its destruction was one such. New to the ways of Delhi and its media, Parrikar was not at his best while explaining the mystery behind the incident. He appeared in a television talk show and gave his version, which was the following day trashed by certain experts on the same news channel. Then came the one-rank- one-pension matter. He submitted himself to many flip flops, and eventually ended up satisfying none. It was left to other more experienced colleagues in the Cabinet to salve the situation and turn it around as a major achievement of the Modi Government.

Despite his good intent and ability to grasp intricate matters, Parrikar has struggled to send across the impression that he means business. Many of his initiatives, such as the defence procurement policy, have been received with mixed feelings by experts. Besides, some of his recent utterances on Pakistan have invited ridicule, though essentially he was projecting the general national sentiment. It would be unfair to say, though, that Parrikar has failed as Defence Minister. There has been progress and the cumulative impact will take a while to be felt.

Interestingly, tiny Goa has enjoyed a special place in national politics, and Parrikar has in a sense benefitted from it. In the 1980s when the Congress ruled both the State and at the Centre, an MP from the State, Eduardo Faleiro, was a Union Minister of State. Later, in a non-Congress regime, another Member of Parliament, Ramakant D Khalap, became a Union Minister of State. In the late 1990s, with the advent of the first BJP-led Government in New Delhi, North Goa MP Sripad Naik joined the Union Ministry. Today, Goa has the distinction of having two of its leaders at the Centre: Parrikar and Naik. Technically, though, the Defence Minister represents Uttar Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha.

The result of the just concluded polling is being anticipated with interest for certain local factors too. The first is that a breakaway faction of the RSS under Subhash Velingkar’s leadership has tied up the BJP’s former ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), to take on the ruling BJP. Velingkar has a problem with Parrikar and is determined to undermine the latter’s influence in the State. He is not bothered about who will win, but that the BJP should lose. He believes that a loss for the BJP would be a slap on Parrikar’s face.

The Congress, not in the pink of health today in the State, is banking on such extraneous developments to shore up its fortunes. The party’s State chief, Luizinho Faleiro, once Chief Minister, is himself battling internal squabbles. He had recently sarcastically remarked that as pilgrims go to Mecca, disgruntled Congress leaders of the State make a beeline for 10, Janpath (Sonia Gandhi’s residence) to get their grievances addressed. Luizinho Faleiro is an old warhorse, but can he save the party from a second consecutive rout?

Finally, the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party has queered the pitch in Goa. The AAP factor may be over- rated by enthusiastic analysts (just as they had gone over the top when Arvind Kejriwal decided to take on Narendra Modi from the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in 2014). But the AAP has the ability to be a vote-cutter. It may at best bag a couple of seats, but it can influence results in many others.

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