As colourful clay idols of Lord Ganesh are ushered into Hindu homes in Goa ahead of Ganesh Chaturthi, the symbolic significance of the deity, as a remover of obstacles and a god of new beginnings, may well dwell on the minds of state leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The party’s top-rung leaders are battling a crisis of loyalty between their party and the ailing high priest of the BJP in Goa, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who in the past has cleared innumerable political obstacles and ushered new beginnings for the party and its cadre. The 62-year-old former Defence Minister’s persisting illness is now threatening to weigh heavy on the fortunes of his party as well as the BJP-led coalition government that he heads.
Parrikar returned from the US — for the third time in six months — after yet another round of treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer last week, but has failed to attend office.
The question of whether and who will replace Parrikar is still not a subject for on-record conversations for BJP leaders like state party General Secretary Sadanand Shet Tanavde and South Goa MP Narendra Savoikar, who insist that “there is no question of a change in leadership”. But in the sanctuary of an off-record conversation, there is anxiety, anguish and worry — both for Parrikar’s failing health as well as the gaining perception that the Goa BJP and the government are virtually leaderless entities.
There appears to be neither hope, nor a consensus, among the party’s senior leadership about who could potentially replace Parrikar for now, especially since his health is worsening, although the Chief Minister’s Office as well as BJP spokespersons insist that the ailing leader is recovering just fine.
Last month, perhaps Parrikar’s only peer in the Goa BJP in terms of longevity and acceptability among cadre, Union Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Naik, made the first attempt to spark a conversation about “alternative leadership” in Goa, while conceding to a crisis. But within a matter of hours of his presser, a planned trip to Delhi to meet the party High Command by Naik himself and other top party functionaries was called off, after some leaders met Parrikar, who was admitted to a Mumbai hospital.
Since then, Naik too toes the line of “no question of leadership change”. Now that the cry for leadership change has been swiftly squelched, the question is now limited to sincere, but muffled murmurs among BJP leaders, who feel that political ground beneath them is slipping, in the face of a series of scandals — the inaction against those exposed for using carcinogenic agent formalin to preserve fish in a seafood-loving state and the never-ending mining ban and the seeming lack of effort by the state government to overcome it, being the two most significant.
It is not that there aren’t options.
One of the few propped up include Speaker Pramod Sawant, who Parrikar, ignoring protocol, had handpicked to lead the government during the state Independence Day parade.
Alliance partners Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party have also been sounded out or have pushed for merging their legislative units into the BJP as a pre-condition for the top chair, according to sources.
Last week, Goa’s political circles were in a tizzy about former Chief Minister and Congress MLA Digambar Kamat — a favourite of the influential mining lobby — along with other Congress MLAs joining the BJP with the Chief Ministerial berth as a prize for the coup. But Kamat, who on a clear winter day in February 2005 quit the BJP to join the Congress complaining of “suffocation” within the saffron party, has now formally said that no such move was on the cards.
Former Goa Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Subhash Velingkar, who has groomed the top rung of BJP leadership, including Parrikar, Naik and state BJP president Vinay Tendulkar, blames Parrikar for the lack of credible second-rung leaders.
“He (Parrikar) has ensured that there are no second-rung leaders. Laxmikant Parsenkar (former CM), Rajendr Arlekar (Speaker) and Naik have been systematically sidelined, which is the cause of this crisis. Leadership change right now is imperative,” Velingkar told IANS.
One would wonder if Ganesh Chaturthi, with all its inherent symbolism, would usher in a new beginning for the BJP in Goa or, at least for now, clear up the obstacles.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])