Mumbai: Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s prolonged illness, lack of an able second rung leadership, and internal dissension have created serious problems for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa. Apart from saving its government and finding a successor to Parrikar, the BJP is also confronted by the bigger challenge of retaining its two Lok Sabha seats from the state in the next general elections.
A senior Goa BJP functionary and member of the BJP’s core team, who did not want to be named, told Mint that the last eight months had been a “testing period" for the BJP in Goa. “We have a chief minister in absentia, nobody around to take his place, dissension in the ranks, and sour allies. This is probably the worst preparation we could have for the Lok Sabha elections next year," the BJP functionary admitted. He said the central leadership had always underscored the importance of retaining both the seats.
“Every seat that we contest in 2019 will be important. It is going to be the mother of all elections and, in fact, retaining two seats from Goa was one of the objectives when we made that not-so-ethical bid for power in 2017. We wanted Parrikar back in Goa because we did not have a suitable replacement and also because he could lead us in the 2019 elections," said this BJP functionary.
The BJP won both North and South Goa seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has relatively been stronger in North Goa but it was the Modi wave as well as Parrikar’s leadership—in 2012, the BJP under Parrikar had won majority for the first time in the Goa assembly elections—that helped the party win the South Goa seat also which has a greater concentration of Catholics.
That winning these two seats again in 2019 is a priority for the BJP is evident from the fact that its North Goa MP Shripad Naik, who is the Ayush minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, is one of the frontrunners for the chief minister’s post. Naik belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBC), unlike Parrikar, who is a Saraswat Brahmin.
“The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which is our ally, is the original party of the OBCs in Goa, though it is now headed by Brahmins. Due to the Hindutva agenda, social engineering by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Modi’s ascent, OBCs have flocked to the BJP in Goa as well as elsewhere. We need to keep our OBC support intact in Goa if we have to win both the seats," said a senior Maharashtra BJP leader who is familiar with the social dynamics in Goa and who requested anonymity. He pointed out that Subhash Velingkar, who in 2016 was divested of his Goa charge by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and who later formed a political party that fought the 2017 election against the BJP, is also an OBC. “We have to arrest this slide and erosion in our OBC base in Goa," the BJP functionary said.
The BJP is worried that former chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, who is a Maratha, another caste important for the BJP in Goa, is leading the dissension against the induction of two Congress legislators, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte. On October 16, Shirodkar and Sopte quit the Congress party, resigned their seats, and joined the BJP. But this swift move enraged Parsekar, who had lost to Sopte from the Mandrem constituency in the 2017 assembly polls.
Earlier this week, Parsekar went hammer and tong against Goa BJP chief Vinay Tendulkar and vowed to defeat Sopte, who is likely to contest on the BJP ticket, in the Mandrem by-poll. Tendulkar hit back, accusing Parsekar of using abusive language against him, Parrikar, and BJP president Amit Shah, a charge Parsekar has denied.
The public spat, however, has dented the morale of the BJP cadres in Goa, admits a Goa BJP office-bearer. “This is not two lower-rung functionaries fighting it out. Parsekar is a former CM and Tendulkar heads the BJP here. Parrikar kept everything under tight control and we focused our energies on the next election. Now the cadres do not know where to get that kind of leadership," said the BJP office-bearer who did not wish to be named.