Moving swiftly to snuff out Congress attempts to wrest power in Goa following the death of Manohar Parrikar, the BJP Monday chose Assembly Speaker Pramod Sawant as the new Chief Minister of the state. Sawant and his cabinet of 11 ministers took oath early Tuesday morning. With that, Goa has a new chief minister and a functional cabinet.
Hours after Parrikar, who passed away Sunday at age 63 after battling pancreatic cancer, was cremated with state honours, 45-year-old Sawant headed to the Raj Bhavan midnight to stake claim after leaders of two key allies, Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardesai and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP)’s Sudin Dhavalikar, who were offered posts of Deputy Chief Ministers but had held out all evening, finally came on board.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who coordinated the BJP moves and talks with allies, said: “Our alliance partners and MLAs are going to meet the Governor. Signed letters establishing our majority will also be submitted to the Goa Governor.”
Video | Manohar Parrikar, Goa CM and ex-defence minister, passes away
The Congress protested, saying the BJP had no right to stake claim. Earlier in the day, the Congress had accused the BJP of creating an “artificial majority” and asked Governor Mridula Sinha to invite the Opposition to form the government.
The Goa Assembly strength is down to 36 MLAs — with the deaths of Parrikar on Sunday and Francis D’Souza in February, and with two Congress members having resigned. The Congress has 14 MLAs, the BJP 12, the MGP and Goa Forward Party three each, the NCP one and three are Independents.
For BJP, real test starts now
Sawant had the backing and trust of Parrikar who, in his final days, relied on him to get work done. With Parrikar gone, and given the precarious numbers in either camp, Sawant’s real test will be to keep the NDA flock intact, especially the allies who will want a bigger share and say in the state.
While Gadkari landed in the morning to take control of the situation, BJP president Amit Shah too reached Goa. Shah said he had come to attend the last rites of Parrikar. “People of Goa and India and the BJP parivar are saddened by his death… the process for a new government will start. BJP’s senior leaders and central minister Nitin Gadkari is here. He is in talks with leaders of our two coalition parties and independent MLAs. In a short while, the selection of Goa’s new Chief Minister will be finalised. And like earlier, like the Parrikar government, the new BJP government will serve the people of Goa.”
Around the time most in Goa were heading to Miramar beach for Parrikar’s last rites, men from Bicholim and Sanqelium, where Sawant holds sway, showed up at the gates of Raj Bhavan.
An ayurveda teacher, Sawant is a second-term MLA. His critics say his biggest advantage is the fact that he keeps to himself and gets work done without much fanfare, a style which brought him to Parrikar’s notice. An RSS member since his childhood in Kotambi village, and later a Yuva BJP leader, Sawant is seen as the “most obvious choice” by many.
When his health deteriorated, it was Parrikar who asked Sawant to do all state duties, including flag hoisting on national days. Even Sunday, Sawant’s confidence showed as he stood in a corner at Hotel Mandovi along with other MLAs, awaiting instructions from the party high command. “The other advantage that cannot be ignored that he has a huge support base, with the entire family invested in the party, along with his wife Sulakshana, who is a teacher in Bicholim and BJP Mahila wing president of Goa,” said a supporter outside Raj Bhavan.
The delay in the announcement, sources said, was not over the party choice, but because of the chaos on the portfolios and shaping the “contours of the alliance”, again a phrase shared by Sardesai in the early hours of Monday, as they left Hotel Cidade de Goa.