‘Not enough comfort with BJP to think about merger’

Goa Forward Party president and TCP minister spoke to & on a range of issues, including the emerging political situation, govt leadership and his equation with . Excerpts from the interview
Lately, major allies, including some ministers, have said that administration has come to a standstill and indirectly blamed chief minister Manohar Parrikar for not delegating powers. What do you think of the present situation and where is Goa heading to?

All who have been responsible for forming the government are shocked by the chief minister’s health condition. When we formed the government, I was considered as the most disparate partner. But we considered the visionary leadership of Parrikar to be the pivot, with the glue which would hold the alliance together and give Goa the direction it deserves. We were sure that with his image and standing in the national government, he could get funds to Goa for development. That was the whole idea. Nobody ever expected this situation.

Presently, many of our focus points or targets have been upset, and that has led some to speak out. Everyone who’s talking may have some justification. Even I have spoken that the bureaucracy is insensitive. The bureaucracy was answerable to him (Parrikar). Suddenly all of us ministers tell them what to do and they are not accustomed to this.
But when a workaholic chief minister suddenly goes missing in action, this was expected.

What is the solution?

The solution could be that we need to take a call for delegation of more duties, which I think the chief minister is not averse to. A decision can and should be taken to delegate more powers to ministers. For this decision, a new date has been set by BJP—on or after December 11. This will also help to put things in proper perspective.

If Parrikar was well, the BJP high command would have never interfered. But now that they are interfering, it does not mean that he is completely out of action, as it has been made out to be. He is mentally very alert and takes decisions.There has been a big hue and cry that somebody else is taking decisions. This is not true. New extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. We have to adjust. One such extraordinary measure would be handing over more portfolios to the ministers.

What is the major challenge now for you as an alliance partner?

In times of adversity, it is a challenge for all of us to remain united. Ours is the only party in coalition government which is not making any demands at this moment, because we want to be seen as a dependable alliance partner. We are not going to desert a friend (Parrikar) in trying times. We will be with him and with his party, and we are not going to fall prey to the designs of the opposition to inject instability from outside.

In politics, what matters in the end is the given word. We as a party and as individuals believe in that. That’s why when others look to backstab and betray at the first opportunity, we’ve stuck to the word we gave Parrikar, BJP and the people of Goa. And we will stick to it, come what may. That’s Goenkarponn. We will bring the value of the word back into Goan politics.

Given this situation, what according to you are the other possibilities.
Let’s look at other possibilities. Here, this government is being led by a person who is sick and who is still holding everyone together.

On the other side is the state Congress president (Girish Chodankar) who says that he is going to live and die as a Congressman. But he also says he cannot guarantee anyone staying with the party, because a person like ex-GPCC president (Subhash Shirodkar) has left.

So, when he says anybody can leave, the message he is sending to prospective alliance partners is that when you yourself are not united where is the possibility (of getting others onboard).
In the interest of stability, we have to hold on this government and we have to be with Parrikar.

Nine months have passed and everybody admits that there is complete slowdown in government functioning. How long you think this can go on?

This will continue till the time we don’t have an alternative arrangement, such as delegating more powers to ministers. When they get those powers, they will start taking decisions.

To be specific, alliance partners and those even within BJP have pointed out that files are held up, works not approved and tenders not getting sanctioned because the finance portfolio is with the CM?

Finance is always an issue in today’s economy. There is always dearth of money, especially when we are now reaching a stage of supplementary demands. People in the finance department are not going to approve files just like that. There is anxiety that after the supplementary demands are passed by the House in January, the model election code of conduct will come into force. The legislators are anxious that if delayed, they may miss the bus for another year.

People say that had you and Manohar Parrikar been in the opposition, you would have led an agitation and forced an ailing chief minister to resign. Your comment.

The role of the opposition in any democracy is to look for the government’s weakness and give a tough time to the ruling party and the government. When in the opposition, Manohar Parrikar did this well, and I, too, am congratulated for being the sole sane voice of the opposition in the last assembly. A strong opposition only complements democracy!

Today’s opposition party speaks differently in the legislative assembly and outside it. The Congress party’s organisation in Goa is controlled by unelected individuals, who in their desperation to grab power at all costs have outsourced the leadership of people’s movements, that the Congress spearheads, into the hands of activists. These are the same activists who have abused, vilified and dethroned many ex-CMs of the Congress. All these theatrics and lack of political acumen have led to disillusionment amongst Congress MLAs, who have begun defecting. The manner in which the Congress is instigating activists to hound an ailing Parrikar will not be seen in good light by the large-hearted Goan public.

BJP’s central leadership had started the process of looking for alternative leadership. What are your chances of becoming the chief minister?

At this moment, it is BJP-led coalition government in the state. The Centre also has a BJP-led government.
Firstly, I am pragmatic that with three MLAs I cannot be the CM of the state. Secondly, BJP will not just allow anybody to become the chief minister.

However, I have not come here to become CM during this term. This was never on my agenda. I have come to deliver on certain things, which we have included in the common minimum programme. I will ensure that it happens, and if that is not going to happen then there’s no use of my continuing in the government. However, we are not going to kill our own baby. I am as much a parent to this government, so with such a responsibility I will not rock the boat just like that, without any reason.

We are a regional party and we have to think only of Goa. Congress is trying to instill anxiety and fear in the minds of minorities, but we are not going to allow what is happening in the rest of the country to happen in Goa.
What BJP is doing elsewhere, we will ensure that it does not do that here. The agenda cannot just change, and if it changes then we will not remain in the government. I think these sensibilities are considered by the BJP’s central leadership.

Recently there were speculations that BJP central leadership had given you an offer to be the CM provided you merged GFP into BJP.

I have founded the party which has been well accepted by the Goan people. We had 75% strike rate at the elections and we have a unique position being in the government, which is unprecedented anywhere in the country. We had to face rough weather because of our decision to tie up with the BJP after having fought the elections against the party.
Locally, we have traction, so why would we merge our party? Secondly, our comfort level was more with Parrikar than the BJP. But now that Parrikar is not active, we are learning to interact and work with the BJP. Although we are learning the ropes, the comfort level has not developed so much to think about merging. We will have to see how things evolve.

Where would your comfort level lie without Parrikar? Would you be comfortable with the present BJP MLAs, or you want someone else to be the chief minister?

I am comfortable with my interaction with BJP’s state leadership coordination committee and its legislature wing. BJP should be happy that we are not coming out with new issues. Secondly, Parrikar was the face of BJP in Goa. But now that he is immobilised, it has to either create a new face or put up a collective leadership. I believe that the future of Goa in next three years lies with collective leadership. No individual can come up to the level of Parrikar, and should not try to do so, as he would be tripped along the way if he starts running too fast. Collective leadership means that the BJP will have to work with the politburo.

Do you expect key portfolios that are with the chief minister to be allotted?

That is the prerogative of the chief minister, but I think that portfolios have to be allotted. Major portfolios also have to be given out, but he has to decide who to give them to, and that itself could become another issue.

As you are an ally of BJP don’t you think that it will be tough for BJP to retain both Lok Sabha seats, particularly the South Goa seat?

If mining does not commence then there would be a lot of difficulties for the BJP and sitting MPs to justify
why inter-departmental coordination at the Centre was not possible, specially when we have been represented in the Union cabinet. Transparency is the key. If mining cannot be restarted, you might as well spell out the problem to the people, and then take the next step. There is talk about forming a mining corporation and also going in for open auctioning. Whatever it is, the people should be kept in the loop. If you mislead them, then you will get what you deserve.

Secondly, without Parrikar’s active involvement, the BJP will have to redefine the entire campaign. They will have to work closely with allies and take people into confidence. Today he cannot campaign for the party, that means they got to have some sort of a workable substitute, one who has credibility and can gain the votes of the socio-politically conscious people of the state.

Considering the relationship you have with the BJP, will GFP have a pre-poll alliance with the BJP in the next assembly elections?

GFP did a post-poll alliance with the BJP to form the present government on the basis of a common minimum programme, with Goenkarponn as its basis. We are also part of the NDA and hence, it is expected that we should unitedly fight future elections. So, as of now, we are together and expect to be so in the future too. But with Manohar Parrikar not expected to lead the BJP in the next assembly polls, we will have to see how we and BJP’s new leadership gel.

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