Vinay Tendulkar, Rajya Sabha member and president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Goa unit, was part of the party’s core team, which ensured that Pramod Sawant became the state’s new chief minister, following the demise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart Manohar Parrikar. In fact, ever since Parrikar was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018, which often made it difficult for him to attend office, Tendulkar was considered as his replacement by the BJP top brass. From the evening of 17 March, when Parrikar died, till 1.45 am on 18 March, Tendulkar was part of the BJP’s negotiating team which was led by senior party leader and Goa in-charge Nitin Gadkari. The team spoke with BJP legislators and allies, comprising the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Paksha (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP), besides three independent legislators. Within hours of Parrikar’s cremation with full state honours, Goa governor Mridula Sinha sworn Sawant in as his successor, along with two deputy chief ministers—one each from the MGP and the GFP.
In an interview with Mint, Tendulkar defended the party’s decision to hold Sawant swearing-in event in the wee hours, which was termed as “illegal" by the opposition Congress. Tendulkar also acknowledged the “immense loss" Parrikar’s death has caused to the Goa BJP, but at the same time, he rejected that it has reduced the party’s negotiating space.
The BJP persisted with a critically-ill chief minister in Goa for almost a year. But when he died, it got the new chief minister sworn in within hours. This has attracted criticism not only from the Congress, but also from ally Shiv Sena. What was the urgency in installing the new chief minister at 1.45am?
On 18 March, we were naturally preoccupied with Parrikar’s funeral. The cremation got over around 6.30pm, after which we held a meeting of the legislature party to select the new chief minister. This meeting got over at 10pm. Then we held talks with our allies, who supported our candidate. After this, we went to the governor with a list of 21 MLAs (members of legislative assembly), including from allies MGP and GFP, besides independents, who supported a BJP government in the state. The governor scheduled the swearing-in at 1.00am, but it was 1.45am by the time it got over. We had to get the swearing-in done because there would have been a constitutional crisis in Goa and the legislative assembly would have been dissolved if we had not installed a new government. Since a serving and popular chief minister had died some hours ago and we were in mourning, it would have been improper on our part to install a new chief minister even before the cremation was over. But the state needed to be given a new government to prevent a constitutional crisis. We actually prevented a constitutional crisis.
How did the BJP manage to convince the smaller parties and independents to continue with their support after Parrikar’s death? Earlier, the MGP, GFP and independents had agreed to support only a Parrikar-led government.
We did not have to do any convincing because the allies never said they would not support a BJP-led government. They supported us throughout the phase when Parrikar was ill and have stayed with us because they are supporting the BJP, and are wedded to the common agenda we had agreed to implement when the government was formed in 2017. We told them after Parrikar’s death that the BJP will select a new chief minister and they agreed.
But this government under Pramod Sawant hardly looks like the dispensation Parrikar headed. There are two deputy chief ministers in a small state like Goa with only 40 MLAs. Parrikar never even shared his portfolios with other BJP ministers, leave aside the allies.
If you look at the distribution of portfolios that Sawant has completed, you will see that he has retained all the departments that his predecessor held. There is no change whatsoever in the portfolios. Parrikar was our tallest leader and currently there is nobody in Goa of his stature. But Sawant is very much the chief minister with the same authority that his position deserves, and this shows in the distribution of portfolios. I don’t understand this fuss about having two deputy chief ministers. Twice during Congress’s rule there were two deputy chief ministers. It is more a matter of convenience and distribution of work than a compromise. There is a new chief minister and if he feels the distribution of work works best this way, he is free to take that decision.
There is a perception that Parrikar’s death has weakened the BJP in Goa, and it has lost much of the negotiating space with the allies. Is it so?
It is a wrong perception. Had that really been the case, we would not have had the same dispensation ruling Goa under a new chief minister. As I said, Parrikar’s death is an immense loss to the BJP, but it has not made us weak. The BJP and its allies are still committed to the path of development, and we will take everybody along on this path.
Parrikar was also quite popular among the minorities, especially the Catholic community in Goa. Doesn’t his death make the BJP look less attractive to the minorities?
It is true that Parrikar’s appeal and popularity cut across communities. But over the years, the BJP, as a political party, has built bridges with the minorities and gained their confidence. We will continue that endeavour and have a harmonious relationship with the minorities. I accept that we will have to struggle a bit here in Parrikar’s absence. The new chief minister and all his ministerial colleagues will have to work hard to build a relationship with the communities and win their goodwill.
Half of BJP’s MLAs (12) are Catholics, yet, none of them is a chief minister or deputy chief minister. Won’t this cause resentment in the larger Catholic community?
No, it won’t cause any resentment. See, in the 2012 elections, when the BJP won 21 seats, which brought a large number of Catholic MLAs to office, we made Francis D’Souza the deputy chief minister. It was a BJP government and we could easily accommodate our Catholic MLAs in senior positions. But in the 2017 elections, we won 13 seats, including 7 Catholic MLAs (D’Souza died this February). But since we did not get a majority, we had to form a coalition government, wherein we could not give senior positions to the Catholic MLAs. That’s not the BJP’s mistake, it is the mandate of the 2017 election. Even in this government, we have a couple of Catholic ministers from the BJP.
Now, the BJP government faces elections to two Lok Sabha seats, besides three assembly bypolls. Aren’t you worried about anti-incumbency, especially in the assembly bypolls which could take the Congress party back to 17 if it wins all three seats?
There is no anti-incumbency against the BJP and no section of voters is disappointed. We will convince the people that we are committed to the agenda of development of Goa and we will win both the Lok Sabha seats and three assembly bypolls, which will take the strength of our coalition to 24. We will also win the Panaji bypoll where a bypoll has been necessitated due to Parrikar’s death. Soon, the coalition will have a strength of 25 MLAs in the House.