Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was back at work on Friday, a day after he returned to India from a three-month medical break in the United States. The 62-year-old former Union defence minister was being treated for a pancreatic ailment in New York.
Parrikar began his day with visits to his family temple in Ponda and to the Mahalaxmi temple in Panjim. He was accompanied by his son.
After arriving at his office in the state secretariart at 10.30 am, he met state officials until about 1 pm. He returned to the office at 3.15 pm for more review meetings and to sign files.
“Mr Parrikar is at the Secretariat and has held meetings with department heads and officials,” Health Minister Vishwajit Rane told Scroll.in. “A cabinet meeting will be held on Monday or Tuesday.”
The cabinet meeting was expected to take place on Friday itself and ministers had been asked to be on standby, but it was reportedly postponed keeping in mind the chief minister’s health.
Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said Parrikar would soon begin preparations for the monsoon session of the Assembly, which is scheduled to start in July.
A visibly frail and wan Parrikar held his smile for the television cameras that followed him after he landed in Goa’s Dabolim airport on Thursday evening from Mumbai, on his way back from the United States. For now, his public interactions are being kept to a minimum but he posted a video message on Twitter on Friday:
In the message, he said, “When I was not well, your prayers helped me get treated and better. Now I am back and I ask for your blessings. I want to assure you that I am at your service now for the development of Goa and for you.”
The information department also circulated photographs of Parrikar speaking with the chief secretary and other key officials. The publicity is critical for the BJP, which has found itself in a tight spot with Parrikar and two other ministers being away from the state because of ill health. In Parrikar’s absence, the Opposition Congress has kept up a steady demand for the BJP-led coalition to name a new chief minister while alleging that the government was “headless” and not functional.
In Parrikar’s absence
Parrikar was hospitalised on February 14 for what the BJP officially said was a pancreatic ailment. He was later shifted to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital and then flown to a specialist hospital in the United States on March 5 even as the party remained tight-lipped about the exact nature of his illness and the American hospital’s name.
As a result of Parrikar’s hospitalisation, the state government curtailed the budget session in February from 31 days to four days. The chief minister presented a truncated budget in between hospital spells.
An elaborate but opaque system was put in place to run the administration in the chief minister’s absence. He retained his 20-odd portfolios, including home, finance, general administration and mining. In the following months, his principal secretary and the officials of the chief minister’s office liaised directly with him in the United States. The chief minister’s office remained the control centre for the government, though a cabinet advisory committee comprising three ministers from the three constituents of the ruling coalition – the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party and the BJP – was set up.
This period was marked by allegations of delayed decision-making and tensions among key ministers. The ministers in the advisory committee – the tenure of which was extended every month – gave enough indication of being unhappy with the responsibility of running the government without the powers to take decisions that remained in the chief minister’s domain. Though the media by and large kept the pressure off the ruling alliance, not so social media where praise for Parrikar’s indomitable spirit gave way to irritation over a rudderless administration.
A job on his hands
Parrikar now returns to a Goa that has grown increasingly disenchanted with his government. One reason for the discontent is the administration’s failure to resume operations in iron ore mines – a key economic sector – that were shut down on the Supreme Court’s orders in February. While the BJP has sought to placate the restive sector with offers of financial assistance and legal aid, mining dependents started a chain hunger strike in Panjim this week.
Also waiting for the chief minister is a backlog of pending recruitment to government jobs, law and order problems in the form of complaints against unruly tourists, frequent load-shedding and power outages. All of these factors have contributed to the public perception of a directionless administration, a point the Congress has sought to drive home at every opportunity.
If these problems were not enough, the list of BJP legislators taking time off because of a medical condition became longer last week. Power Minister Pandurang Madkaikar suffered a brain stroke on June 5 and is currently undergoing treatment in Mumbai. On June 4, law minister and advisory committee member Francis D’Souza, who is recuperating from an illness, left on a month-long visit to Portugal. This opened up the government to more criticism. On March 8, BJP legislator Carlos Almeida had suffered a mild stroke but he is now said to have recovered.
In Parrikar’s absence, several central BJP ministers and leaders visited Goa, including Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, who is overseeing big infrastructure projects here. The BJP’s national president, Amit Shah, was in the state on May 13 and addressed a meeting of booth-level party workers where video messages from Parrikar were circulated to boost morale. In the face of the Opposition’s allegations of a headless government, the chief minister also made phone calls to select journalists earlier this month. Parrikar’s return will give the BJP’s crisis managers some respite, for the time being at least.
All photographs courtesy Department of Information and Publicity, government of Goa.