Laxmikant Parsekar was pulled from the fringes of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa and thrust into the chief minister's gaddi exactly a year ago, when his predecessor Manohar Parrikar was elevated to the cabinet as defence minister, creating a leadership vacuum for the party in the state.

Sensing he would be unfavourably compared with his predecessor, Parsekar had sought time and indulgence to learn the ropes, and had stated upfront that his style would be different. Do not compare me to Parrikar, he had asked people then, seemingly acutely conscious of the perception gap and the shoes he was stepping into.

A year later, Goa's public can see a less unsure man, and definitely someone who has emerged as one of the BJP's multiple power centres in the state, from the near single power centre it formerly had in the decisive figure of Parrikar.

Leader by proxy?

But the comparisons obviously rankled. “I was ridiculed more on social media," he said in a recent interview. "I used to hear nasty comments on Facebook and electronic media comparing me with defence minster Manohar Parrikar”.  But that has changed, he said, with him gaining the people's confidence.

“...I get (an) overwhelming response, so much so that after my session they come to me to take (a) selfie with me," he said. "At each programme at least 40 selfies are taken with me.”

It is this sort of candid garrulousness that contrasts with the more astute abilities of the former chief minister. While Parrikar had a firm grip on his cabinet and the bureaucracy, with centralisation of decision making in him, analysts suggest that Parsekar's more accommodative, delegatory style might just be the more sagacious move, which is what is nudging him slowly up the popularity charts.

But has the former school principal, with a penchant for pastel silk kurtas, managed to step out of Parrikar's larger than life shadow, and become the go-to man in the government? That's almost a no-brainer in political circles here, as the leader-by-proxy image refuses to go away just yet.

Lingering shadow

For one, it is a known fact that the former chief minister visits the state almost every weekend, holding meetings with officials, partymen, bureaucrats and ministers. Parsekar admitted he kept some files pending each week for Parrikar's advice in the initial months. Even ministers and members of legislative assembly wait for the weekend meetings, to have issues sorted out.

Parrikar actively campaigned in the zilla panchayat polls and the recent municipal polls in the state, but the party's performance has slipped considerably from the near clean sweep it made in the 2012 assembly polls. Additionally, the defence minister was on hand at party meetings before an October state cabinet reshuffle of portfolios and made personal visits to soothe the ruffled feathers of those who lost out.

Critics of the BJP say the former chief minister is still very much in charge, “running the whole show, with papers being faxed for decisions.”

“More political issues, I take to Mr Parrikar, while for governmental issues I go to the CM,” Lyndon Monteiro, general secretary of Goa Vikas Party, BJP's alliance partner, said. He justified the supervision, saying that since Parrikar led the 2012 election campaign, it was human tendency to oversee that those presently in charge were fulfilling the commitments made.

Unkept promises

The problem for the state BJP however is the widely held perception and criticism that it has not kept its commitments on the many issues it hauled the previous Congress government over the coals for, and promised to set right in its manifesto. These include emotive issues like finalising the state Regional Plan, illegal mining recoveries, special status for Goa and shifting casinos out of the capital's river waters. All issues that resonated strongly with the state's Christians, a section of whom unprecedentedly voted for the BJP in 2012, largely because they believed Parrikar.

But over the recent past weeks, it is Parsekar who has increasingly had to both administer the bitter medicine and take the resultant flak, on both failure to shift  casinos and special status. Some, like independent legislator Vijai Sardesai, see him as the fall guy and patsy for the party's pre-election bait and switch manoeuvres.

The current chief minister finds himself heading an administration that is single-mindedly pursuing a highly unpopular corporate agenda for the state in the final run up to the 2017 assembly polls. Unpopular land acquisitions for various projects have been accelerated. The contentious Mopa greenfield airport is being fast tracked. Environmental issues are being sidelined along with a previous pro-environment minister Alina Saldanha, who was divested of the portfolio, angering her Christian supporters.

Going it alone

"They have created a mechanism by which they can continue with their U-turns but deflect the blame", said Sardesai, a political opponent who humbled the BJP in recent municipal polls.

Meanwhile, unhappily for one faction in the BJP,  Parsekar has indicated he would now like to act on his own instincts. “I have now come to a stage where I don't require advice. If at all I require advice now, my officers are competent enough to help me. With good officers, it is not difficult running the administration,” he said in an interview that has caused a political stir in Goa.

That's quite some tough talking in a state unit that has seen the dominance of a single towering leader for a long while.