Mumbai: Smart politics and midnight manoeuvring helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) install its government in Goa in March even after voters reduced its strength in the assembly from 21 to 13 seats.
But a month-and-a-half after Manohar Parrikar resigned as defence minister to return to Goa as chief minister for a fourth term, the BJP government is increasingly finding itself at the mercy of those very smaller parties and independents who helped it form a coalition government.
Allies like the Goa Forward Party (GFP), Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP), and two independents who joined the BJP-led coalition, have not let go of any chance to reap dividends from extending support to the BJP in the short span of time, observers and BJP politicians say.
“We are aware that it is not a BJP government and we are running a coalition. But the coalition pressures have come quite early on in our tenure," said a BJP legislator, who did not wish to be named.
Incidentally, this legislator says he could have been a minister in the Parrikar cabinet had it not been for the BJP’s dependence on allies.
That the allies are in the driver’s seat is evidenced by three successive developments.
Last week, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) demanded a ban on the consumption of beef in Goa. VHP leader Radha Krishna Manori said the organization did not need the state government’s support to change the food habits of Goans.
Goa is one of the several Indian states where cow slaughter is legally banned. Vijay Sardesai, GFP’s chief and city and country planning minister in the Parrikar cabinet, promptly raised a red flag and asked Parrikar to “ban the entry of those people in Goa who are a threat to communal harmony."
Parrikar virtually echoed Sardesai and told reporters that any person who took the law into his hands would be dealt with legally. He also reminded reporters how he, in his previous stints as chief minister, had banned the entry of the radical Sri Ram Sena chief Pramod Muthalik into Goa.
The second instance of allies extracting their pound of flesh came on 18 April when Parrikar carried out a second round of portfolio distribution. MGP’s Ramkrishna Dhavalikar was given transport in addition to the public works department. Ironically, Dhavalikar had been relieved of these two portfolios and sacked by former BJP chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar just before the February elections.
“It is embarrassing to be forced to take him back and allot him the same portfolios. He was sacked because there were serious complaints of corruption against him," said a former BJP legislator and minister, who lost in the February elections. In the distribution of portfolios, the BJP has had to give away key ministries to the GFP and MGP, crushing the aspirations of BJP hopefuls.
BJP Goa’s spokesperson Sandesh Sadhale denied any resentment within the party over portfolio distribution.
“It is a coalition government obviously but what is most important to us is that Parrikar is the chief minister. He is running the government on the agenda of development and that is non-negotiable. Who gets which ministry is not important when the main driver of this government is Parrikar," Sadhale said.
The third instance of allies forcing BJP to change its pre-election position concerns the Goa Investment Promotion Board (IPB), a creation of the previous BJP government that was opposed by the GFP and Congress. In fact, the Congress had made a manifesto promise to scrap the IPB if it came to power on the grounds that it facilitated the entry of polluting industries in Goa.
Ironically, Vishwajit Rane, a former Congress legislator who joined the BJP this month, was at the forefront of the demand to scrap IPB. The BJP has now agreed to review the IPB rules in order to take the views of its allies on board.
The BJP is paying the cost of a “power grab" in Goa, said a local political commentator who requested anonymity.
“This is what happens when the single point agenda was to form government at any cost," the commentator said.