Soon as Manohar Parrikar was airlifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi on Saturday morning, a scramble for control broke out in Goa’s ruling coalition. Ill health has kept the chief minister away from office for much of the time since he took charge in March 2017.

Parrikar had barely left when the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s two ruling partners, staked its claim to the chair, contending that the “senior-most member of the cabinet” should get to run the government in the chief minister’s absence. The party obviously meant its own minister, Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavalikar.

The suggestion was swiftly shot down by the other ally, Goa Forward Party, as well as the independent minister, Govind Gaude. Unsurprisingly, it did not find favour with the BJP either. “What is the meaning of senior-most leader?” BJP legislator Nilesh Cabral asked, adding that his party has several ministers with “longer legislative experience” than Dhavalikar.

He said the BJP Legislature Party will meet on Monday to “find an acceptable solution” to the leadership vacuum. “Right now, the chief minister’s health is our priority,” Cabral added.

The Goa BJP expects senior leaders from the party’s central unit to arrive on Sunday to discuss the situation with 11 of the party’s 14 MLAs. In addition to Parrikar, two other BJP legislators are currently in hospital – Urban Development Minister Francis D’Souza and Power Minister Pandurang Madkaikar.

‘Political ploy’

Seizing upon the disarray in the ruling coalition, the Congress said the “ugly game of power” has exposed the greed of the BJP and its allies. The opposition party also taunted the BJP for having no “trusted lieutenant” to take charge while the chief minister is away.

The Congress also alleged that “this confusion of epic proportions” was a political maneuvre by the BJP to dissolve the 16-month old Assembly and hold fresh elections. “We have already cautioned Honourable Governor Mridula Sinha about a possible ploy by the BJP to fraudulently impose President’s Rule through the backdoor,” said the party’s state president Girish Chodankar. “We urge her once again that the Congress should be given an opportunity to form a stable government in Goa, in view of the prevailing political chaos.”

Chodankar said while his party sympathises with the chief minister “as far as his health is concerned”, his act of “snatching away the mandate given to the Congress in the 2017 Assembly election and his mismanagement of all major issues, including mining, food adulteration, pollution, casinos, unemployment has driven Goa to the edge”.

After the elections to the 40-member assembly, the Congress emerged as the single-largest party, with 17 seats. The BJP won 13 seats, but moved to form the government in an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party.