Just over a fortnight since Manohar Parrikar’s death, the BJP in Goa seems to have zeroed in on a way to make up for its dearth of charismatic living leaders: build up the former chief minister’s legacy and hope it will see them through the leadership crisis.
In true Indian fashion, this will be done through a slew of schemes in the former defence minister’s name, statues of him and a demand for the next generation of his family to enter politics.
“Definitely they are deploying the Parrikar legacy. What will they do, since they are in bad shape with no leaders to fall back on,” said educationist and columnist Prabhakar Timble. The party is acting quick and fast, he added.
Reports say sculptors in neighbouring states have been contracted to make busts and statues of the former leader.
A party source admitted that the statues and busts were being readied, but did not want to officially confirm the same due to the Code.
Parrikar, who had been battling pancreatic cancer for over two years, died on 17 March, throwing the Goa unit of the BJP into confusion. The IIT Bombay alumnus, a former kar sevak who had travelled to Ayodhya for the Babri Masjid demolition, had the reputation of an able administrator, though critics point to how he and his party diluted the syncretic culture of Goa and left it more polarised than ever.
The BJP had stitched together the ruling coalition in the state with the Goa Forward Party, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and independents.
After the state assembly elections in 2017, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the state with 17 MLAs while the BJP had 13. The Goa Forward Party, MGP and Independents had three MLAs each and the NCP one.
In the course of this term, two Congress MLAs resigned their seats to join the BJP, while another crossed sides to become a minister, bringing the Congress’ numbers down to 14 and the BJP up to 14. When two BJP MLAs passed away, the party’s number fell to 12 again.
After Parrikar’s death, two MGP MLAs broke away from their party, formed another group and merged it with the BJP, increasing its floor strength from 12 to 14.
Sawant oversaw this merger. An Ayurvedic practitioner who has never held a ministerial position before this, he had been elected the Assembly Speaker when the alliance was strung together in 2017.
On his first day in office, Sawant first visited the Parrikar residence and met the family before proceeding to the secretariat complex. At the Chief Minister’s office, he marked his first day in office by placing a portrait of the former defence minister on a chair beside him.
The BJP is also hoping that the Parrikar name will help them in other ways. Over the past fortnight, party supporters and a social media campaign built up the demand that Parrikar’s elder son Utpal enter politics and contest the Panjim assembly seat that his father had won for several terms. Utpal demurred for a few days, saying entering politics was a big sacrifice. But on March 30, the Parrikar siblings reactivated their late father’s Twitter handle, and in a joint thank you note, hinted they were interested in taking forward their father’s legacy.
“My father lived everyday with vigour, a strong will and a desire to serve the Nation and the State.....We will honour his life by continuing his legacy of service and dedication to the State and the Nation,” read the message by Utpal and Abhijaat Parrikar.
A series of publicised condolence meetings have been held for Parrikar, with senior leaders, RSS general secretary Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi and home minister Rajnath Singh in attendance, adding a decidedly political flavour. His ashes were also taken across 40 constituencies on March 26 for immersion in rivers and sea.
″Parrikar is not with us to address the election campaign. But there is no doubt that his ‘asthi kalash’ that will be touring the state will give us victory with huge margin for the election,” CM Sawant was quoted as saying at a meeting of party workers.
The statement drew a poll code violation complaint from an RTI activist and a subsequent probe was ordered by the Chief Electoral Officer.
Even apart from this, things have not gone according to plan. Sanjay Dhavlikar, editor of Marathi daily Goan Varta, told HuffPost India that the Asthi Kalash Yatras did not get a good response.
“The BJP should worry. They were trying to use it for the Lok Sabha, but they could not as they did not get a good response. The number of Parrikar sympathisers have reduced, I feel. In the last few years he had more detractors than supporters. But usually what happens is after the death of a person, we don’t talk about the negative side. So there is sympathy for somebody who is no more. But will that translate into votes for the BJP?”
In the last few years, said Dhavlikar, the former chief minister “lost the image he had displayed from 2000-2004 (his first innings as Chief Minister) as an administrator in command of his cabinet. Despite winning a majority in 2012, we saw a politics of adjustment and compromise and the people saw it too”.
The party, however, is determined to push ahead.
Last month, Sawant also announced the publication of a book on the life and ideology of Parrikar to be out in the next six months, which would be made available in schools, colleges and educational institutions.