The four-time CM and former defence minister, who was ailing for some time, attended office almost to the last day and recently presented the state budget, embodying a no-nonsense approach that was his hallmark. Despite his illness, BJP persisted with Parrikar who seemed the most capable in steering a coalition in a state where smaller parties are seen to change loyalties and hold the balance.
The BJP brass dispatched senior leader Nitin Gadkari to Goa to take stock and weigh options. Congress had already staked claim on Saturday, arguing the government had lost majority and its numbers could fall further. It said the demise of BJP MLA Francis D’Souza had eroded the saffron party’s numbers.
On Sunday, Goa Congress again wrote to governor Mridula Sinha staking claim to form the government. Terming Parrikar’s demise as “unfortunate”, leader of the opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar said BJP “has no allies as of now” as coalition partners had allied with the saffron party on the condition that Parrikar heads the government. “Congress being the single largest party, it is submitted that the leader of the Congress legislative party is invited to form the next government,” he said.
While there is no clarity on Parrikar’s successor, the swearing-in ceremony of the new CM is slated around 9.30 am on Monday, deputy speaker Michael Lobo said.
Gadkari reached Goa late on Sunday night and met leaders and coalition partners in the wee hours. With Parrikar’s demise, the strength of the Goa assembly is 36 with BJP now having 12 MLAs. With three MLAs each of Maharashtra Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party and three independents, the coalition just about has a majority in the House. The contenders for the CM’s post are seen to be Union Ayush minister Shripad Naik, Goa speaker Pramod Sawant, health minister Vishwajit Rane and state BJP president Vinay Tendulkar. The BJP parliamentary board is expected to meet on Monday to condole Parrikar’s death and may also take a view on the way ahead in terms of the leadership.
Parrikar’s demise was condoled across the political spectrum, testifying to the leader’s reputation as an affable but tough administrator. Despite his image as unbending on rules, he was a successful coalition builder, having formed a majority government when he reached out to the Catholic community and fielded Christian candidates in 2012 and broke the state’s political fault lines.
Parrikar’s reputation was embellished by his stint as defence minister at the Centre where he led the ministry with a hands-on approach and worked to ensure transparent procedures in high-value purchases. He had a role in speeding up the Rafale acquisition. This led to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi alleging that he was under pressure to hide wrongdoings. Rahul met him briefly in January and claimed that Parrikar said he had no hand in the “new” Rafale deal. Parrikar flatly denied discussing the issue in a conversation that lasted a few minutes. The surgical strikes on terror launchpads in PoK took place during his tenure in 2017.
As news spread that Parrikar was sinking, many hoped against hope that this was another rumour which would be belied. But a confirmation from President Ram Nath Kovind ended the speculation. The IITian who became a politician breathed his last at 6.15pm on Sunday. He was 63.
Parrikar was diagnosed with cancer in February 2018 and since then Goa’s politics turned more turbulent. He was the face of BJP, the tallest leader Goa produced, and someone who gave up the defence minister’s post to return to Goa as chief minister for a fourth stint. He had famously said that while being defence minister was fine, he missed his fish curry and rice. “Extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Manohar Parrikar, chief minister of Goa, after an illness borne with fortitude and dignity. An epitome of integrity and dedication in public life, his service to the people of Goa and of India will not be forgotten,” President Kovind tweeted.
Parrikar never gave up on running the administration. There was the cabinet advisory committee of three ministers — one each from the three coalition partners — for a while but Parrikar remained the CM till the end, largely because the party couldn’t find an alternative.
News that Parrikar had breathed his last left many speechless. His popularity cut across religious lines, despite his staunch RSS background. A swayamsewak to the core, Parrikar was ideologically wedded to the Sangh but was sufficiently accommodating — and uncompromising — to maintain the middle ground in Goa politics. He refused to allow some saffron leaders known for inflammatory speeches entry into Goa and enforced the law with sensitivity. He was particularly concerned about the impact of the Supreme Court ban on mining on livelihoods.
Introduced into the BJP by former Goa RSS chief Subhash Velingkar in the late eighties, Parrikar was hesitant at the start. “I don’t want to enter politics. I have no such intention,” he told Velingkar when he went to his Mapusa residence to convince him. It didn’t take long for Velingkar to get him on board, and Parrikar did the same with his reluctant family, telling them that “joining politics is a good thing”.
He turned out to be a top political strategist, representing the Panaji constituency uninterrupted from 1994 till his death. Briefly, when he resigned to become the defence minister, he got his own man elected as the MLA and won comfortably when he returned to the state in 2017.
Parrikar was the man who cobbled the first BJP government in the state in 2000. At a time when the party had just 10 MLAs, he stitched together a coalition, and two years later, formed the government again with just 13 MLAs in a House of 40. In 2012, following five years of Congress rule, he stormed to power again, this time winning a majority on his own for the first time with 21 MLAs. How a swayamsewak rose to such great heights in Goa with a significant minority population would have surprised many. Parrikar, after all, was the one who led around 700 kar sevaks from Goa during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
A non-conventional politician, his style of governance projected the aam aadmi simplicity and middle class values. He became chief minister at 43 in 2000, and came up with schemes — computers for students, direct money transfer to beneficiaries, old age pension and health insurance — which were later introduced by the Modi government at the Centre.
Described by PM Narendra Modi as the architect of modern Goa, Parrikar was BJP’s tallest leader in the state. Parrikar’s identity in politics was firmly established as a man who wore short-sleeved shirts and sandals for any occasion, and a man who had no problem hopping on the back of a two-wheeler. He detested a security cordon around him, even when he was chief minister. With Parrikar gone, Goa’s politics will never be the same again.