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Pramod Sawant’s second term 9-member Cabinet has more Congressmen

by | Mar 29, 2022 | India

Sawant is the first-ever saffron party leader to lead the state of Goa which is more known to be a secular and minority-driven state.

They called him Accidental CM, they even laughed him off as Pappu of the BJP, but as the cool Ayurvedacharya would say Bhivpachi Garaz Na (There’s no need to be afraid). Dr Pramod Sawant was sworn in as the 14th Chief Minister of Goa, 18 days after the declaration of results for constituting the Eighth Goa Legislative Assembly. As a galaxy of luminaries, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, applauded, a saga of nerve-wracking wait to select the next chief minister involving hectic backroom wrangling that even threatened to divide the party, came to an end. The saffron party, for the moment, has made peace with itself, but then there’s something more to it than what meets the eye.

 A Congress-yukt BJP Sarkaar?

 Dr Sawant was sworn in as a part of a nine-member Cabinet that included former Congressmen (five of them) such as Mauvin Godinho, Ravi Naik, Subhash Shirodkar, Vishwajit Rane and Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate. While the RSS’ blue-eyed boy, Sawant himself is the only one from the parent organisation, the presence of so many Congress turncoats in the Cabinet is not surprising. The reality check is: despite winning the most number of seats and having a pan-Goan presence, the BJP and the RSS, have not been able to produce strong and winnable leaders. They are simply poaching and refurbishing formidable Congress leaders.

The saffron party has also left three cabinet berths vacant. This could partially be to keep the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (that had offered unconditional support) hanging by a string of hope to help BJP win both North and South Goa Parliamentary Seats in 2024 and also not be a part of any misadventure to bring its government down. Besides, the murmurs within the party are not yet over. A section of 9 BJP MLAs had met over a late-night dinner at a star hotel in Panaji hours after BJP staked its claim to form the government last week. This pressure group were firm of the opinion that the Govt should not induct MGP Supremo Sudin Dhavlikar as a minister. Though two of those who attended the dinner including Babush and Ravi have since been sworn as ministers, the unease of the 3 vacant Cabinet Berths remains.

The ‘Obvious’ Sangh Rise as CM  

From an accidental CM to the party’s unanimous choice, Dr Pramod Sawant’s return as Goa’s Chief Minister for a second consecutive term is historic of sorts. He is the first-ever saffron party leader to lead the state of Goa which is more known to be a secular and minority-driven state. Sawant’s return was also bolstered by the increase in BJP’s vote share to 33% vote and the Party bagging half of the seats (20) in Goa’s 40-member Legislative Assembly. Both (a reminiscent of former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s charismatic comeback of 2012. This also included a surprise win from Navelim in the traditional Congress bastion of Salcette – a minority stronghold. And all this achievement despite the absence of the charismatic former Union Defence Minister / Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.

But Sawant’s return electorally wasn’t all that record-breaking. He defeated Congress’ Dharmesh Sanglani by a mere 666 votes. Most of those votes coming from postal ballots that have been questioned by the Opposition as being cast in a partisan manner by proxies. But then in politics winner takes it all. With the Sanquelim seat in his pocket, Dr Pramod Sawant as the next CM was almost obvious.

Though Sawant had no direct role to play in BJP’s campaign across Goa unlike his more illustrious predecessor Parrikar, the fact that he was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s handpicked man for Goa weighed heavily in his favour. In a state where the Catholic Church is traditionally seen as the gamechanger responsible for vote swings, Sawant was the most suitable choice. Also, his excellent relations with BJP’s Organising General Secretary Satish Dhond (Goa’s equivalent of Amit Shah and sometimes referred to as Super CM) made it convenient for BJP as Sawant is not seen as too ambitious as his predecessor Parrikar to overshadow the central leadership of Modi.

 Behind the Confidence, the Lurking Unease

 It’s an urban legend in Goa that it was former Valpoi MLA Vishwajit Rane who as a Congress Health Minister had released Dr Pramod Sawant from his services as Government Doctor at the request of Leader of the Opposition Manohar Parrikar in 2012 so that he could contest as MLA from Sankhalim. Ironically, it was Rane Jr who proposed Dr Sawant’s name for a second term as CM at the BJP Legislature Party meeting earlier last week. The truth remains it was Rane who was the prime challenger to Sawant’s second term. Rane Jr was earlier in the contention for the same post in 2019 when Sawant had pipped him to the post in 2019 post-Parrikar’s death, for the CM’s post. Having won the Valpoi seat with a record margin and ensuring that even his father Pratapsingh Rane’s seat came into the BJP fold, Vishwajit was hopeful that the Party would acknowledge his efforts. He was summoned to the Centre as the RSS-backed party dragging its feet on an obvious choice for almost two weeks sought to dispel doubts by putting some discipline into its ranks.

While other challenges including senior-most minority leader Mauvin Godinho and a surprise rookie Himachal Pradesh Governor Rajendra Arlekar who was weighed in as a possible compromise CM were quickly dispelled, what would be interesting to see is whether the party will repeat its two Deputy Chief Minister formula of the last term. And if so, who becomes the Deputy CM Rane Jr, Mauvin, Ravi or later entrant Sudin Dhavlikar.

As Goa finally has a Government and a Cabinet, the show moves on. However, Goa’s politics grow shakier when the numbers are larger. And post-Parrikar, BJP isn’t all that united a party as it seems rather it seems more a strap of strong, resurgent Congress turncoats not quote adapted to RSS-style discipline.

Ajay Thakur
Ajay Thakur
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Ajay Thakur is a South-Asia based Communication Consultant and Political Communicator.