Manohar Parrikar in hospital, political situation in Goa turns fluid

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Mumbai: The political situation in Goa has turned fluid after the sudden hospitalization of chief minister Manohar Parrikar, the man who holds the state’s rickety coalition together.

Smaller allies in Goa’s ruling coalition had agreed to support a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led minority government in March 2017 only if Parrikar, then Union defence minister, was made chief minister. The party complied.

Parrikar who holds the finance portfolio in Goa, was expected to present the state budget on Monday. In his absence, Sudin Dhavalikar, senior Maharashtravadi Gomantak Paksha (MGP) leader and PWD minister, will table the budget on 22 February. The business advisory committee (BAC) of the state legislature also curtailed the budget session to four days.

The medical condition of Parrikar, who has been undergoing treatment at Lilavati Hospital since 15 February, remains a matter of concern and a mystery.

A BJP minister who attended the BAC meeting told Mint over the phone that Dhavalikar would only “table the budget and the BAC would later schedule the discussion on budget”.

“We also decided that all matters of discussion scheduled for the budget session would be taken up during the monsoon session,” the BJP minister said, requesting anonymity. Earlier, the BAC had finalized the agenda for the budget session till mid-March.

The BJP-led government also decided to make Dhavalikar the leader of the house for the duration of the session, which ends on 23 February.

Beyond this session, senior BJP leader and minister for legislative affairs Francis D’Souza has been made the BJP leader of the house, according to Goa BJP president and MP Vinay Tendulkar, who held a meeting of BJP members to decide the strategy due to the likely prolonged absence of Parrikar.

BJP MP from South Goa Narendra Sawaikar on Sunday evening issued a statement, saying, “On the advice of his doctors, chief minister Manohar Parrikar will be continuing with the treatment for pancreas in Mumbai.” The statement further said that the “CM’s treatment is in the right direction and he is responding to the same. However, he needs sufficient time to recover and be focussed on the treatment.”

The Lilavati Hospital too issued an undated statement by its vice-president Ajaykumar Pande, saying: “It has been brought to our notice various malicious and misleading reports/rumours are floating around in the electronic/print media with regards to the health of Hon. Chief Minister of Goa. We categorically deny all such rumours. We reiterate that Hon. Chief Minister of Goa is being treated and is responding well to the treatment”.

Speculation about Parrikar’s health peaked after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in Mumbai on Sunday to attend several events, visited the ailing chief minister, one of his long-time lieutenants in the BJP.

BJP functionaries in Mumbai described Modi’s visit as a last-minute addition to his itinerary. “But don’t read too much into it. Manoharji is very close to Modiji and it was a demonstration of the prime minister’s personal warmth for his colleagues that he went to see him,” said a Mumbai BJP legislator who did not wish to be named.

In the 40-member Goa assembly, the BJP leads a precarious alliance with MGP, Goa Forward, and two independents. The BJP won only 13 seats in the February 2017 election against the Congress party’s 17. Soon after, the BJP number went up to 14 and the Congress tally reduced to 16 as Congress legislator Vishwajit Rane resigned and joined the BJP. Rane later got elected on a BJP ticket.

The Congress party has held the BJP-led alliance guilty of “stealing the mandate and betraying the people of Gujarat” and blamed Parrikar for heading “an unholy government”. While the BJP-led coalition has formed a common minimum programme, there have been frequent bickerings and differences of opinion among the three parties over a number of issues.

“Parrikar is the only glue that has kept this rickety government intact and stopped it from crumbling under its own contradictions. Since the MGP and GFP agreed to support the BJP if Parrikar was made the CM, they are right now not trying to exploit the situation. But they won’t keep patience for a long time. It all depends on Parrikar’s heath but it would be fair to say that the situation has turned a bit fluid,” a political analyst based in Panaji said, requesting he not be named “given the sensitivities involved”.

He added that though Goa was used to political instability, especially prior to 2012 when the BJP won a simple majority on its own for the first time, this kind of situation was unprecedented.

Goa Congress leader Girish Chodankar, who lost the August 2017 assembly by-poll to Parrikar by around 4,800 votes, said on Monday that while the Congress party prayed for the recovery and good health of the chief minister, it was wrong of the government to curtail the budget session.

“Government is a continuous process. It is incorrect to curtail the session. It is not the first time such situation has arisen; government always runs on alternative options. We have full sympathy and concern for the health of Manohar Parrikar and sending good, healthy vibes for a speedy recovery,” Chodankar tweeted on Monday.livemint