Updated: January 20, 2022 12:04:21 am
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday declared a social activist and lawyer Amit Palekar as its chief ministerial face for the 14 February Goa Assembly elections. A new entrant to politics, Palekar, 45, will be contesting the polls for the first time on AAP ticket from the St Cruz Assembly constituency in North Goa.
A day after declaring the party’s two-time Sangrur MP as its CM face for the upcoming Punjab Assembly polls, AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal named Palekar as the party’s CM candidate in the Goa elections. Palekar belongs to the Bhandari Samaj, a numerically strong community among Goa’s OBCs.
Kejriwal had earlier said that the AAP’s CM candidate in Goa would be from the Bhanadari community. “We had promised to give you a candidate whose heart beats for Goa, who can even die for Goa…a person who is educated, someone who cannot be fooled, he will work for everyone’s development and he will be an honest man… He is a fresh face and Goa cannot have a better CM candidate than him,” said Kejriwal while declaring Palekar as the AAP’s CM face in Panaji.
He said, “Bhandari Samaj is a big community in Goan society. They have a feeling of injustice and deep hurt in their minds. Some say they make up 30 to 40 per cent of Goa’s population. In 60 years, only once for two-and-a-half years there was a CM from Bhandari Samaj….When we said we will give a CM from the Bhandari community, people accused us of playing caste politics. We are not playing caste politics. We are remedying the caste politics that other parties have played. We are putting an end to that feeling of injustice. Those parties never gave a CM from Bhandari Samaj saying it cannot be capable (CM). Bhandari Samaj has contributed blood and sweat for Goa’s development. People from Bhandari Samaj are doctors, engineers, pilots — there is no field they have not contributed to. Then why were they deprived?”
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A social activist and prominent lawyer, Palekar has practised law for the last 22 years. He has been a legal practitioner in both criminal and civil cases in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court.
Palekar has a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and a master’s in Constitutional Law and Intellectual Property Rights from Goa University. While pursuing his higher studies, he also worked as a sub-editor in a local newspaper.
Palekar’s late father was a school teacher who taught History and Hindi. His mother Jyoti Palekar, a former sarpanch of the Merces Village Panchayat, who had been a BJP functionary for 25 years, said, “I was with the BJP for 25 years but after (former CM) Manohar (Parrikar) Bhai passed away, it was no longer the same party. We worked for so many years but then they just stopped acknowledging us. I saw my son working for the people during the pandemic and when he decided that he wants to work for AAP, I also resigned (from the BJP) and decided to stand behind him.”
Palekar’s wife Rasika is also a lawyer and a restauranteur, who runs a restaurant at Vagator. They have a six-year-old daughter.
Among the main challenges facing the AAP is the perception that the party is an “outsider” in Goa. Speaking with The Indian Express, Palekar said, “Look at the Congress, BJP, TMC or any party contesting elections in Goa. Where are they registered? I am from Goa, our (state) convener is from Goa. How do you say it is an outsider party? Our leader has clearly told us that this is our baby. We have to look after this party in Goa. A person with vision shares his vision, he does not remote control. The remote control is only held by BJP and Congress. That is why this narrative has been built by them and not the people of Goa. The people of Goa are connected with us. Today, the CM of Goa has to travel to Delhi to decide the election candidates for Goa. Congress has to travel to Delhi to decide its candidates.”
Palekar said choosing a CM from the Bhandari community was not a political move by the AAP but a “clear cut opportunity” that the party has given him. “Almost one-third of the people in Goa are Bhandari. I am not here only because I am from the community, It’s by chance that I am from the community. This is a clear signal that if you are capable, if you are smart enough you will get an opportunity irrespective of which community you are from or how backward you are. This is a message for the people of Goa and the people of India,” said Palekar.
The lawyer-turned-politician, who is fluent in Konkani, English, Hindi and Marathi, also said: “I am often asked if I actually belong to the Bhandari Samaj because people think anyone who can speak out, who can be educated or talented cannot come from the Bhandari Samaj. Isn’t this wrong? Caste politics is when you feel a person is not from the Bhandari Samaj because he is talented. This mindset has to change. And for that the party has taken this decision”
While his mother’s political works were his “inspiration”, Palekar said that despite being “meritorious” he failed to get a government job because his father did not have the money at the time. “I had decided that I will fight this injustice one day and today that is what I am doing,” he said.
During the second wave of the Covid pandemic last year, Palekar had gone out to help patients find hospital beds and oxygen in Goa. Last month, he fasted for five days in protest against the construction of an alleged illegal structure in Old Goa that triggered a massive citizen-driven protest in the heritage precinct. His fast was dubbed as a “political stunt” by the AAP’s detractors. “Nothing stopped any other politician to sit with me and fast for the people? Why didn’t they do that? I am just going to ignore that,” said Palekar.
If he becomes the CM, weeding out corruption will be his first task, Palekar said. “It won’t take a long time. It will take 24 hours to do it. Just bring about discipline and put it in the minds of government servants that it will not be tolerated. Why should it take six months or a year? Corruption is rampant in Goa but I assure you, 24 hours is all it will take to put things in order. You just need conviction to achieve it and we will do it.”
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