The dramatic arrival of Goa’s ailing chief minister Manohar Parrikar in the Assembly on Thursday to present the state’s annual Budget has taken all attention away from the budgetary exercise. The media gave blanket coverage to Parrikar’s Assembly appearance, hours after he was discharged from Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai where he had been treated for a pancreatic ailment since February 15.
In all this din, the fact that the Budget presentation did away with the customary Budget speech, deferred tax proposals till an unspecified date and wound up in just a few minutes has gone almost unnoticed. Parrikar, who holds the finance portfolio, told the House he was unable to write a detailed Budget speech on account of his ill-health.
The duration of the Budget session, which began on Monday, was also cut short from 31 days to four days because of the chief minister’s medical condition. Commentators noted the Goa Assembly has been in session for just 30 days in the past year.
Congress for new session
The Opposition Congress, which has been criticised for agreeing to a curtailed Budget session, said it expected the government to convene another session within the next two months. State Congress chief Shantaram Naik said the party would “examine the matter” if this did not happen.
On Tuesday, leader of the Opposition and Congress MLA Chandrakant Kavlekar had accused the BJP of wasting the time of the House for even the few days it was in session by not taking up questions that concerned the state’s citizens.
With the session ending on Thursday, questions tabled before the House by Opposition leaders have lapsed and will have to be retabled.
Lawyer and political analyst Cleofato Almeida Coutinho said, “Even if the chief minister of a state is not available, there should have been somebody else to answer questions. In a democratic setup, this is not acceptable. You have to pray for the chief minister’s recovery but let the House continue simultaneously.”
Parrikar’s return to Goa was covered live by cable networks while the media went to town with headlines such as “Where there’s a will, Parrikar finds a way”, “He’s back… Parrikar Returns”, “‘Ailing’ CM presents a revenue surplus Budget”,“Parrikar puts State’s political health over his own health concerns”, and “He’s Back, CM Manohar Parrikar is home”.
Social media joined the buzz with comments like “Tiger is back” and “the lion returns”.
Earlier, speculation that Parrikar was giving the final touches to the Budget from his hospital bed had also made headlines in at least three major English language dailies.
The coverage came in for criticism from some mediapersons. “Unbelievable, the headlines and coverage for someone suffering from mild pancreatitis,” said journalist Devika Sequeira. “Or has the media been complicit in masking the extent of the chief minister’s illness? When the media abandons its role to speak the facts, we are skirting a serious danger zone.”
Analyst Cleofato Almeida Coutinho added, “If they are using it to build an aura, then full marks to them. They know how to do it.”
The focus on Parrikar’s health had been growing over the past week with the state BJP releasing a statement that the chief minister was “under monitoring for his inflamed pancreas, but needed time to recover and be focused on the treatment”. There was also talk that he might be shifted to the United States. Several BJP leaders and ministers had led prayer services across the state for his recovery. And the police had questioned some journalists in connection with a police complaint filed by a BJP member that rumours were being spread about Parrikar’s condition.
Parrikar told the House on Thursday that “it is your wishes and prayers which have helped me recover speedily and return to Goa”.
Parrikar’s presence in Goa has also led to speculation of trouble in the ruling coalition and differences between alliance partners Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party in his absence. Both have said in the past that they agreed to join the coalition last year on the condition that Parrikar would head the government.
“Allies have reposed faith and trust in one individual and not the party. We cannot sublet that support or power to someone else,” the Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardessai said, apparently referring to Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party leader Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavlikar taking temporary charge in Parrikar’s absence.
Dhavlikar had earlier said he would be presenting the Budget in the chief minister’s absence, according to media reports.