Panaji, Goa: Pramod Sawant, Goa's new chief minister, shares some similarities with his predecessor Manohar Parrikar. Like Parrikar, Sawant, 45, gets the top job in the state at a politically young age. The BJP is apparently looking at Sawant as a long term prospect in Goa in the post-Parrikar phase.
He has also had association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological parent, though Sawant had a shorter stint in the RSS. Sawant's ideological loyalty to the BJP is his main strength. He was Parrikar's trusted lieutenant and according to some BJP-RSS cadres in Goa the departed BJP stalwart's first choice as his successor.
Sawant was sworn-in as Goa chief minister at 1.45 am on March 19 along with Sudin Dhavalikar of Maharashtravadi Gomantak Paksha and Vijay Sardesai of Goa Forward as deputy chief ministers.
Yet, there are subtle and substantial differences between Parrikar and his successor. Sawant is a Maratha unlike Parrikar who was a Gaud Sarswat Brahmin. In Goa, which in the 60s and 70s saw India's first political revolution by the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the form of the rise of the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Paksha (MGP), the political power in the last few years has concentrated in the GSB community. A veteran Panaji-based analyst, who has authored books on Goa's social history and who does not want to be named, told Mint that Goa's other two big caste groupings of the Kshatriya (Marathas) and OBCs among the Hindus have of late nursed this grudge against the GSBs. He says Sawant's elevation as a long term prospect is significant from the caste point of view.
"There is resentment among the Marathas and OBCs over the GSBs controlling the levers of political power. The GSBs have always controlled industry and economy in Goa and so the concentration of political power of late has added to the discomfort felt by the Marathas and OBCs. I see Sawant's elevation as the BJP's effort to assuage the Marathas and OBCs," the analyst said. He pointed out that after Parrikar moved to the Centre as the defense minister in 2014, the BJP appointed Laxmikant Parsekar as his successor. "Parsekar is also a Maratha but he lost in the 2017 assembly elections," he said.
Sawant is into his second consecutive term as the MLA from the Sakhali (previously Sanquelim) constituency in the BJP stronghold of North Goa. Raju Nayak, political commentator and editor of the Panaji edition of leading Marathi daily 'Lokmat,', told Mint that Sawant's constituency had marginal presence of the Catholic community. "This confirms the impression that the BJP wants to stick to its faithful constituency of Hindus. In the 2017 elections, a Hindutva party like the BJP had as many as 7 legislators among its total 13 from the Catholic community. Yet, the party has refused to trust any Catholic legislator with the position of the chief minister which is significant," Nayak said.
Sawant, an Ayurvedic doctor, was first elected from the Sakhali constituency in the 2012 elections. He won again in 2017 and was made the assembly speaker. During Parrikar's long absence from work due to ill-health, Sawant became his trusted second-in-command in the party in Goa. A soft spoken man, Sawant left a government job in 2008 to contest an assembly by-poll on the BJP ticket. He lost then but he persisted in the BJP. Rewarded with the top job in Goa 11 years later, Sawant has big shoes to fill and two wily politicians as his deputy chief ministers. "It is going to be a challenge for him to provide governance as well as leadership to the BJP in the absence of Parrikar. His big test comes soon in the form of Lok Sabha elections and three assembly by-polls on April 23," admitted a Goa BJP leader who did not want to be named.