Goodbye, Your Excellency

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Questions around Governor Malik’s removal before he completed a year

THE transfer of Goa Governor Satya Pal Malik on Tuesday came as a big surprise to everybody. Malik did not even complete ten months in office. This is perhaps the shortest tenure for a governor in the state. People have attributed Malik’s abrupt transfer to his frank views on several issues concerning governance and his candid criticism of the Pramod Sawant government’s COVID management strategies. He once publicly contradicted the Chief Minister when Sawant told the media after a meeting with the Governor that His Excellency was not happy with the negative media coverage of government’s efforts on COVID. Never before in the history of Goa, a governor had publicly berated a chief minister for making a statement to the media after a meeting at Cabo.

That day Malik had called the Chief Minister and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane to discuss the COVID-19 situation. He was believed to have expressed displeasure at not being kept informed on the COVID situation by the government even when the cases were rising sharply. Malik raised the issue of high mortality of comorbid patients and wanted to know if proper systems existed in the COVID hospital for treatment of the pre-existing diseases of the comorbid patients. He suggested that the government must treat them for their earlier illnesses along with COVID. There were other issues on which Malik took a different approach from what the Chief Minister proposed. Earlier this month he shot down the proposal mooted by Sawant to construct a new Raj Bhavan, arguing that the proposal was “imprudent and irrational” as the state was reeling under severe economic crisis. That came as a big embarrassment to the Chief Minister.

Although no evidence is available till now to support the view that Malik was transferred owing to the frequent embarrassment he caused to the Sawant government, it will be absurd to accept that his transfer has come by way of a normal process. If it was normal, he would have remained till the end of his tenure. In the past there have been instances of governors being transferred on change of ruling party at the Centre but this is the first time a governor, who is a favourite of the Modi government, has been transferred even before he completed one year in office. There may be a deeper story at play between him and the central government. The central leadership might still be liking him, but could be unhappy over some of his radical ideas.

The Congress has alleged that Malik was removed because he was opposed to a state government’s secret plan to lease out the Raj Bhavan to a private party for opening a casino. We will come to know soon if there is such a secret plan. If there really is such a plan, it is bound to trigger opposition by heritage conservationists and other sections of society, for Cabo has been an iconic yet inhabited monument that has witnessed crucial moments of colonial and postcolonial history of Goa. To turn it into a casino would be wrong.

It could be wrong also for other reasons. The government has been promising to move offshore casinos out of the Mandovi because of the various problems they create for the normal business of the people in and outside Panaji. There have been talks of the offshore casinos being moved onshore to somewhere near the under-construction Mopa airport. When the government is planning to move the offshore casinos out of Panaji, why should they even entertain a proposal for having another casino? The opposition parties have accused Pramod Sawant of proposing to build a new Raj Bhavan, so he could lease out Cabo to an investor for operating a casino. Those who have seen Las Vegas and Macau would know that no property in Goa offers a more heavenly location for a casino than Cabo. It has a magnificent palace, the sea on three sides, a majestic view and an acreage on which a whole township can be built, with recreation theatres and shopping zones. Any casino promoter would do anything on earth to get this paradise. We do not know for certain if the central leadership removed him for his opposition to the new Raj Bhavan proposal.