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Inexperience, Caste, No Competition: Why Fuss-Free Pramod Sawant Was Picked to Succeed Parrikar

Pramod Sawant had several advantages over other candidates when it came to picking the next CM. Like Parrikar, Sawant has maintained a taint-free, clean image. He is also a Maratha.

Sachin Parab |

Updated:March 19, 2019, 4:37 PM IST
Inexperience, Caste, No Competition: Why Fuss-Free Pramod Sawant Was Picked to Succeed Parrikar
Goa Governor Mridula Sinha (R) administers the oath of the office to Pramod Sawant as the new Chief Minister of the state, at the Raj Bhavan in Panaji on Tuesday (PTI)

If one analyses the reasons for the appointment of young BJP MLA Pramod Sawant as Goa’s 11th Chief Minister, no one else seems as natural a successor of Manohar Parrikar as Sawant.

This is not just because Sawant is the only BJP MLA with an RSS background, not only because he is a Maratha and Parrikar’s close confidante. He fits the bill also because Parrikar himself discovered Sawant and groomed him to become the leader he is today.

Sawant, unlike Parrikar, did not grow up in RSS shakhas. The ayurvedic practitioner was quite active in public life as a member of Nehru Yuva Kendra, an NGO, under sports ministry. He worked as a doctor in a government hospital. When Parrikar, who was looking to expand his party’s influence in Sankhalim, a Congress stronghold, found Sawant.

Parrikar saw potential in Sawant, as a leader who could defeat Congress in their own backyard, and introduced him to RSS around the year 2000. The Sangh groomed him and Sankhalim repaid the faith by winning assembly elections in 2012 and then again, against a strong Congress undercurrent, in 2017.

In 2017, after BJP came to power, Sawant was the most likely candidate to become Goa’s Health Minister — one of the most coveted ministerial berths in the state, given the large number of vacancies that are available in this department. But given BJP’s compulsions of having to accommodate its allies and the Catholics, who had repeatedly shown faith in Parrikar, Sawant was left out of ministries but given the next best thing — the role of assembly speaker.

During the time of uncertainty in government formation after Parrikar’s death, one more name cropped up as a potential CM candidate — Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane. His father was himself Goa CM at one point. But given a strong antipathy towards him in the senior party cadre, his name was eventually dropped.

Francis D’Souza was another big, acceptable leader who could have replaced Parrikar. D’Souza also happened to be Parrikar’s close friend and classmate. But he himself died last month fighting cancer.

Had he continued being an MLA, we could also have heard of another name, as a contender for the CM’s chair — Sidharth Kuncalienker. He could have been the dark horse in this race.

Kuncalienker has been a long time personal secretary to Manohar Parrikar. He was with Parrikar from a very early age till Parrikar’s death. That Kuncalienker held influence over every major decision that Parrikar made was a well-known fact. When Parrikar moved from Goa to New Delhi, to assume the role of Defence Minister, he had to vacate his seat. It was Kuncalienker who took over as the local MLA in Parrikar’s absence.

When Parrikar returned, Kuncalienker again had to vacate seat for his boss. While Parrikar was away, a rumour was floated that he would succeed Parrikar as the next Goa CM. Kuncalienker is also a Saraswat Brahmin. But two things came between Kuncalienker and the CM chair — he is not an MLA and isn’t at least so far a mass leader.

Sawant had several advantages over other candidates when it came to picking the next CM. Like Parrikar, Sawant has maintained a taint-free, clean image. He is also a Maratha.

If there is one unwritten law about appointing Chief Ministers of Goa, it is that they must be either Marathas or Saraswat Brahmins. If you look at names of last few CMs — Digambar Kamat (Saraswat Brahmin), Pratapsingh Rane (Maratha), Laxmikant Parsekar (Maratha), Manohar Parrikar (Saraswat Brahmin). The state with over 20% OBC population has never chosen an OBC CM. There is perhaps an apprehension among both these communities that when an OBC leader is made CM, it will become a norm and these two communities will never get the top job again.

Strange as it may sound, his inexperience (he’s never held a cabinet portfolio till now) also went in his favour when BJP consulted its allies. There is an understanding between the allies that his inexperience will make him more flexible, ‘easy to handle’. How Sawant treats his allies, at a time when Congress is also fancying its chance at forming government, may be too early to tell. Curtains have not come down on the drama unfolding in Goa.

(The author is a Mumbai-based journalist. Views are personal)

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