GOA has a new chief minister. It proved quite knotty for BJP central leaders to negotiate with the Goa allies to get them to accept Pramod Sawant as successor to Manohar Parrikar. The allies were not ready to go along unconditionally with the choice. Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari had to hold several rounds of talks with leaders of the allies, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party, without seeming to arrive at a settlement. He was joined by BJP president Amit Shah in the evening of Monday, after Parrikar’s last rites were over, but still the deals seemed elusive. The main problem arose from the perception among the allies that Pramod Sawant was too young, junior and inexperienced to be made chief minister. But Shah and Gadkari made it clear that their party’s choice was Pramod Sawant and they had to accept him. Goa Forward Party leader Vijay Sardesai struck a deal: he would not mind who was chief minister if he was made a deputy chief minister.
However, Ramakrishna Dhavalikar wanted to be chief minister himself. For months he had advanced his claim, arguing he was the seniormost minister. The grapevine had it that Dhavalikar enjoyed Nitin Gadkari’s blessings. Dhavalikar’s every visit to Delhi was read as a lobbying round for the highest office – even if the meetings were for road and bridge projects. How close a friendship Dhavalikar enjoyed with Gadkari was exposed when the news came late in the evening on Monday that the BJP had succeeded in buying off two of the three MGP MLAs, Babu Azgaonkar and Deepak Pauskar with cabinet berths, isolating Dhavalikar. The man who wanted to be chief minister was now threatened with ouster from the government!
Shah and Gadkari took the risk of driving Dhavalikar into a corner, because they knew Dhavalikar as well as he knew himself: his one great weakness was power. He has always been a minister, regardless of which party has run the government. The BJP leaders knew Dhavalikar without a cabinet post will be like a fish flung out of water. And they had guessed it right: he came back, wagging his tail. Like Vijay Sardesai, he too would not mind who was chief minister as long as he was made a deputy chief minister!
Though the Congress laid a claim to be invited by Governor as the single largest party in the Assembly, the truth was that the BJP, even with much lesser number, had the MGP, GFP and independents with them to make the majority. The Congress might have to wait for a moment when the ruling coalition in its new avatar shows any cracks for them to thrust in their hand and tear it apart. As of now, the MGP, GFP and independents are sticking with the BJP – of course with promotion of leaders and more powers for their MLAs. The allies had after all not opposed it when on Saturday, after doctors hinted that Parrikar’s health might be beyond recovery, the BJP legislature party decided that his successor would be from the BJP. Their position was that the BJP was the largest partner in the alliance and hence had the privilege of choosing the leader. Several names were first thrown up: Union Minister for AYUSH Shripad Naik, Speaker Pramod Sawant, BJP state president Vinay Tendulkar, even Health Minister Vishwajit Rane. Among them Shripad Naik’s name was most prominent as he had the experience, stature, working style and temperament to take everyone along. However, there was this nagging footnote that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seeking a second mandate, and his fight with his rivals was much more intense than it was in 2014 – what with the natural drag of anti-incumbency – a fight in which every seat counted, and hence the party leadership would not like to send Shripad Naik to the state, because he had been consistently winning the North Goa constituency and had a strong base which was expected to help him win again. Vinay Tendulkar had been a minister for a while and his administrative track record in the government had no excellence to lay claim to. Vishwajit Rane’s disadvantage was that he was not originally from the RSS or the BJP. That left Pramod Sawant alone in the list. He was from the RSS and preferred even by Parrikar for discharge of customary responsibilities of chief minister at the Independence Day and Liberation Day functions. In retrospect, it can be said that the delegation of these responsibilities was Parrikar’s way of introducing his successor to his party colleagues, allies and the people at large. We will wait and watch how his successor performs as chief minister.