The many challenges before Pramod Sawant, Goa’s modern day King Bharata
Panaji: A touching scene, reminiscent of an episode from the epic Ramayana played out in Goa last week after Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s death.
When his successor, Pramod Sawant, kicked-off his first day in office with a framed photograph of Parrikar placed in a chair alongside, one could draw rough parallels to the sequence in the great epic where King Bharata placed Lord Rama’s ‘padukas’ (wooden footwear) on the throne when his elder brother was banished from Ayodhya.
In Sawant’s case however, Parrikar who died on March 17 after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer, isn’t coming back. And the crown of thorns, which the new Chief Minister now wears, is bound to test the abilities of the Ayurveda practitioner-turned politician, who finds himself thrust headlong into a vortex of challenges. The first test for Sawant is the clutch of elections for two Lok Sabha seats and three Assembly by-polls.
The Chief Minister hails from the Sanquelim Assembly constituency, where he is on shaky grounds and engaged in a turf war with his own Minister for Health Vishwajit Rane, who defeated a municipal panel floated by Sawant last year. Sanquelim is a part of the mining belt in North Goa, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer sure of its footing.
It has been unable to restart mining operations for a year, after the Supreme Court banned all iron ore extraction. These are just the issues which Sawant faces at home and the outdoors isn’t hunky dory either.
Relatively young at 45, Sawant has never been a minister. Now, as Chief Minister his troubleshooting skills will be tested with battle-hardened coalition leaders like Vijai Sardesai of the Goa Forward. From within the party, challenges could come from Rane and Michael Lobo, who harbour aspirations of being chief minister.
Through swift moves, Sawant, on Wednesday oversaw the merger of two out of the three MGP MLAs into the BJP, thus taking the sting out of senior MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar, who was also gunning for the chief ministership. The daring midnight split in the MGP provides a new sharp dimension to Sawant’s leadership.
Sawant also faces the challenges of ‘Congressisation’ within the BJP in Goa. This refers to the induction of several Congressmen in its legislative ranks in the recent past, leaving very few legislators that the RSS and the state leadership, in the absence of Parrikar, can really trust.
He is among the few Goa BJP leaders whom party workers can call their own, considering that the party has generally dithered from giving senior management responsibilities to its six Catholic MLAs.
Sawant also faces the tricky challenge of handling the mining ban crisis, which impacts several hinterland constituencies. He needs to address sluggishness in the administration and decision-making, which had been hampered by Parrikar’s long illness.
Perhaps the most tricky challenge confronting the new Chief Minister would possibly come in the near future when or if Parrikar’s reluctant son and Sawant’s friend, Utpal, takes the political plunge and contests the Panaji seat, which his late father represented since 1994. With Utpal already being talked about as a Chief Minister in the making by the party cadre, whether Sawant will continue or, like King Bharata in the Ramayana, sacrifice his throne so that Parrikar’s legacy continues is perhaps a story for a new contemporary epic.