The Goa arithmetic: What is happening in Manohar Parikkar’s absence and why

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionaries are often fond of saying that the organisation (sangathan) makes the leader. This is true, but sometimes the leader becomes so central to the organisation that his absence becomes a source of vulnerability.

Manohar Parikkar’s (prolonged) illness in Goa has induced precisely this uncertainty in the state. The Congress’s move on Monday — to submit a representation to the Governor seeking both the government’s dismissal and seeking an opportunity to form the government — stems from a sense that timing is just right to open another front against the BJP and from a particular configuration in the house.

Parikkar not only enabled the BJP’s growth and success in an unlikely state (think of its cultural roots and plural religious mix) but was the reason the party could form the government at all in 2017 despite losing its majority and coming second. Smaller parties and independents were willing to back the nimble-footed and resourceful BJP, while the Congress was caught napping despite being the single largest party, but on one condition: Parikkar’s return to the state from Delhi. This suited the then defence minister, who was always itching to get back home.

The problem began some months ago when Parikkar was first admitted to a Mumbai hospital and then flown to US. He did return but it was not the same and political circles both in the state and Delhi knew that Parikkar would have to invest time in taking care of his health.

When there was a dip in health over the weekend, and he was flown to Delhi, speculation began that Parikkar had himself sought “alternative arrangements” in the state. There is no clarity on whether this meant he wanted to quit, or he wanted other interim mechanisms to be put in place. Either way, it kicked off a fresh round of political churn.

The Congress has smelled an opportunity. After having been criticised for being slow after the results came out, it wants to ensure that it remains aggressive. There are two motivations here: “Expose” the fact that the government is non-functioning and see if BJP’s allies and independents can be weaned away. Some in the Congress have also floated the idea of doing a Karnataka, by offering chief ministership to one of the smaller allies. The Congress believes that even if it is not able to effect an immediate change, the optics are rather negative for the BJP because it is coming across as a party obsessed with only power, even though it is not able to exercise it in the absence of its leader.

For the BJP, Parikkar’s health has been a setback. In the run up to 2019, the loss of a state — if the government collapses — would not augur well for optics. But BJP leaders claim that a lot of the speculation about change is unwarranted. For one, the government continues to enjoy a majority, even if it a slim one. Two, the allies have reiterated that they will remain with National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Three, while admitting that there may be a governance deficit, BJP leaders say there is no governance or constitutional crisis and thus no compelling, immediate need to change the CM. Four, the Congress is over-reaching because the arithmetic has not changed. And finally, the fact that the ball is in the Governor’s court means that it is unlikely that she will take a decision which would actively go against the BJP’s immediate interests.

As Parikkar’s health remains fragile, Goa will continue to be politically turbulent. From the continuation of a government with a leader who is unwell to a change in power equations, from President’s Rule to early elections, all options are on the cards. But the decision will finally boil down as much to the machinations in Panjim as to the state of a man in a room in Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Sometimes then, leaders do determine the fate of the organisation.

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