By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Paradox continues to dog Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, irrespective of the geography he is in or the position he commands.
As Defence Minister, he seemed to be preoccupied with Goa’s affairs. As Chief Minister, his obsessive politicking overshadowed his administrative capacities — and while lying on a hospital bed in Mumbai last week, tied down by a mystery illness still not officially pronounced, Parrikar appeared to be all but biding his time.
Then suddenly he landed in Goa on February 22, amid speculation and chaos, looking gaunt and ill, but to a hero’s reception at state the legislative assembly near Panaji, where ruling MLAs — much like West Indian cricketers for Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar on his last outing — queued up for the man many were writing off.
Officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa, as well as the Chief Minister’s Office, have repeatedly insisted that the 62-year-old Parrikar was only suffering from “mild pancreatitis” and is responding well to treatment.
But once again, the paradox is that party-workers are busy organising a series of prayer services in Catholic Churches and “Maha Mrutyunjay” chants (prayers to defy death) in temples, praying for the Chief Minister’s return to good health, indicating all may not be well with the former Defence Minister.
Incidentally, Parrikar, who is without a doubt the tallest politician the state has ever produced — both in terms of positions served in the Union cabinet and the sheer impact he has had on the state’s politics in the last two decades — has never completed a full-term as Chief Minister, despite being in the chair on four occasions.
Sources in the BJP claim that Parrikar’s return from Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai was not to pen his political swansong, but to batten down the hatches for the party, ahead of a brewing tempest in the coalition government even as ruling alliance members appear to have smelled a weakness in the BJP pride, with the party’s alpha lion down, if not out, just yet.
While the jury is out on the nature of Parrikar’s illness, the Chief Minister, according to party sources, is working on ways to increase his party’s numerical tally, in case things go south during his spell of illness.
“The key is to get parties like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward, both of whom have three MLAs each, to merge in the BJP. That will make it difficult for their leaders to leverage pressure on the BJP in the future. This has become Bhai’s (Parrikar) mission now,” a senior state BJP functionary said on condition of anonymity.
Both Public Works Department Minister and MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar and Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai have played footsie with the Congress recently, with the latter being one of Parrikar’s biggest and bitterest critics before he joined the ruling alliance last year.
Currently, in the 40-member Goa legislative assembly, the BJP is the second-largest party with 14 MLAs, and the inclusion of three MLAs from the MGP will ensure that it becomes the single-largest party with 17 seats, four short of a simple majority, making the arithmetic convenient for gubernatorial manoeuvrings.
It is just this kind of farsighted, political-mathematic mind, a swashbuckling brand of politics and a battle-scarred readiness in face of adversity, which made Parrikar a near-legend for BJP workers in Goa in the years of his ascent.
But the paradox of Parrikar continues to dog him.
Promises to deliver clean, transparent governance, oaths to drive away the casino industry from Goa, assurances to take down the mining mafia in the state and promises to rid the state of drug mafia have come to very little over the years and driven some of his faithfuls — which includes former state chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Subhash Velingkar — away.
That is why opinion about his legacy is now divided, even during his ill-health. A cross-section of social media users mouthed ill-will against him, even when he was being admitted to the hospital.
There were those who expressed concern for Parrikar and his party, but even the much-vaunted social media machinery of the BJP could not counter the criticism, which, sometimes, was in extremely poor taste.
Post Script: After the buzz of his sudden arrival subsided a bit, Parrikar, late on Sunday night, was once again rushed to a government hospital after he complained of uneasiness, throwing the party once again into a bit of turmoil — an emotion the coastal state and its subjects may have to grapple with increasingly, with growing uncertainty about the severity of its Chief Minister’s health.