In the February 2017 Goa assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to address the lone election rally in Goa at the Campal ground near Miramar Beach in Panjim, near the site where chief minister Manohar Parrikar was cremated on Monday. The turnout was large but the crowd was getting restive as Modi was delayed. Then Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar did his best to pacify the crowd but the din continued, which may also have had something to do with the hot sun. Moments after Modi’s arrival was announced one more time, Parrikar took charge. As soon as the then defence minister began addressing the gathering in Konkani, they quietened down. Modi arrived with his usual swagger. But what made a bigger impression that day was Parrikar’s display of command over the people of Goa.
Abdul Hasan, a cab driver at Panjim airport, eloquently summed up what Parrikar meant to the BJP in Goa. “Abhi Bhai nahi toh Goa mein BJP khatam (after Parrikar’s death the BJP is finished in Goa)," Hasan said.
So total was Parrikar’s identification with the BJP in Goa that when he was moved to Delhi by Modi as defence minister in November 2014, the state party struggled to find a replacement. Parsekar did don that mantle but never in the way Parrikar had.
A BJP functionary in Goa who requested anonymity said it was an inkling of his cancer in 2017 that made Parrikar consider returning to Goa. “But whatever the reason for his return, Parrikar was missed when he was away and Parsekar could handle neither the government nor the party. It was a big relief in February 2017 when the party softly projected Manohar bhai as the next chief minister also to improve our chances in the election," the BJP functionary said.
A BJP Mahila Morcha functionary, a Catholic from Mapusa and Parrikar’s native village , who had come for the funeral, said Parrikar’s appeal lay beyond the BJP for many people, including Christians. “He held an appeal and promise unlike any other BJP leader. He was the BJP for many people here and I don’t know what happens to the party now," she said requesting anonymity.
Damodar Mauzo, an award-winning Konkani writer and a critic of the right wing, agreed that Parrikar was unlike the typical BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader in some ways but added that the difference was not substantial. “He did not implement the Hindutva agenda in the same aggressive or rabid way the RSS and BJP would have wanted him to or he himself would have wanted to. But he did implement the same agenda in subtle ways. Also, Parrikar made some compromises because he wanted to rule Goa and he could not have done it if he carried the Hindutva baggage as distinctly as other RSS-BJP leaders. With his brightness and brilliance especially at handling the state finances, he could have achieved much. But one thing is certain. Parrikar’s identification with the BJP here was absolute and he was the BJP. That is why he never thought of grooming a successor," Mauzo said on the phone from Goa.
This failure, which mirrors the BJP’s inability in Goa to look beyond the stalwart, has demonstrated the limits to BJP politics in this small but difficult state for the right-wing party.
Apart from his ill-health, another reason Parrikar wanted to return to his home state was the BJP’s plain lack of choice.
A senior central BJP leader closely associated with Goa said Parrikar was deployed in early 2017 as the BJP’s “only credible weapon" when nothing else was going the party’s way. “We had no leader, no face, nobody who had stature to lead the BJP in the 2017 elections. Goa is not Uttar Pradesh or even Maharashtra where Modiji’s appeal can see us through. Goa is a very localized state and it appreciates nativity. That is why we brought in Manohar and projected him as the next CM again," said the BJP leader who did not want to be named.
This BJP leader added that the lack of an alternative to Parrikar was the only reason why the BJP persisted with an “irretrievably ill Manohar for more than a year".
“We just didn’t have anyone who could replace him. This is a fact, though we are not very proud of it and it is obvious from the atmosphere of political instability that has gripped Goa soon after his death," the BJP leader pointed out.
On Monday, as Parrikar was laid to rest, the BJP named 44-year-old Pramod Sawant as his successor. Sawant was made assembly speaker by Parrikar only after the 2017 elections. Parrikar’s successor may have two deputy chief ministers from two BJP allies in Goa to reckon with. This was never the case with Parrikar. In 2017 the BJP won only 13 seats in 2017 against the Congress’ 17, but formed the government when the same allies said they would support the BJP only if Parrikar was made chief minister. Without Parrikar, the BJP in Goa will never be the same.