Panaji, Nov 5 :
“It is easier to get the army to vacate from Lahore but not from even an inch of land in Panaji…” This was Manohar Parrikar, as a newly elected chief minister of Goa in July 2012 accusing the army of land-hogging during a debate in the legislative assembly.
Two and a half years down the line, Parrikar may just be in a position to get the Indian Army to do his bidding, with his name now making rounds in the national capital as the country’s next defence minister.
The fact that Parrikar, along with state party president Vijay Tendulkar and organising secretary Satish Dhond, have rushed to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah only appears to have corroborated media reportage tipping him as defence minister in the impending round of cabinet expansion.
The qualified metallurgist had only just returned from Delhi last week after a series of meetings with cabinet ministers to pursue pressing Goa-related issues which required the central government’s concurrence and sanction.
Asked about the likelihood of Parrikar’s elevation to the central cabinet, state BJP vice president Willfred Mesquita Wednesday quoted Shakespeare with a twist: “Party is such sweet sorrow… We can never be happy when someone parts. But if someone goes for better prospects, we should be glad.”
Parrikar’s is the country’s first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus to become a chief minister (in 2000), before another IITian Arvind Kerrial joined the elite club last year.
Almost synonymous with the BJP in Goa, 58-year-old Parrikar has always been viewed as a leader with promise within the party, although ironically it was his ambition streak as well as his ability to put his foot-in-the-mouth on the most sensitive occasions which have proved to be his Achilles heel.
In 2009, Parrikar was one of the top seeds in the running for the party’s national president position, when the furore triggered by his comparison of BJP stalwart L.K. Advani to “rancid pickle” during an interview to a local cable news channel turned the tide against him.
In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Parrikar appeared to be gentling maneuvering himself into a position of a consensus candidate for prime ministership. Tell-tale signs of this emerged on the social media, where his fans started a group ‘Manohar Parrikar for Prime Minister’.
Among other signs was his interview on The New York Times’ online India edition ‘India Ink’ where he said that he would have done a better job at handling the riots which occurred in Gujarat in 2002.
In the eventual scheme of things, the Goa chief minister was forced to play bridesmaid to Modi, announcing the Gujarat chief minister as the man to lead the BJP for the 2014 general elections.
Parrikar’s track record in his most recent stint as chief minister (he served as chief minister twice before in 2000 and 2002) has been chaotic and marked with ‘U turns’ and reversals on key issues like mining, tourism, casinos and land resource management, as a result of which the BJP has had to face flak both from citizenry and the media.
“Parrikar himself was lobbying for a cabinet position because he has made a mess of affairs in Goa… The defence portfolio is his escape ticket from Goa,” Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Goa Shantaram Naik said.
Parrikar’s elevation may just help him turn a new leaf and begin a new political innings in Delhi’s corridors of power.
If he does indeed become defence minister, it will be the senior most position in government ever held by a politician from Goa, a small state which is considered politically insignificant.
Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza and Speaker of the Goa legislative assembly Rajendra Arlekar are considered to be in the reckoning for the chief minister’s post in Goa if Parrikar joins the Modi cabinet.