The final word on the leadership tussle within the BJP-led coalition ruling Goa rests with BJP president Amit Shah. This emerged after two days of consultations by three central observers deputed by Shah to meet BJP legislators, core party members and alliance partners in the state. The central delegation held meetings with all stakeholders on Sunday and Monday in state capital Panjim.

Consensus has eluded the appointment of a temporary deputy to take charge of the state while Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar recuperates. Parrikar, 62, who first took ill in February, has been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and in hospitals in Mumbai and Goa. He was shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi on Saturday, but is learnt to have sought time off to focus on his health at the insistence of his family. His prolonged absence from the state had crippled governance, causing consternation within the coalition and leading to criticism from the Opposition.

The political buzz around the visit of the central observers – Ram Lal, BL Santhosh and Vinay Puranik – however, only underscored the deep divide and power struggle within the fractious coalition that has been simmering for several months now.

The Goa Assembly has 40 seats. The ruling coalition comprises the BJP with 14 seats, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Goa Forward Party with three seats each, and three independents. The Congress currently is the single-largest party with 16 MLAs. The Nationalist Congress Party has one MLA.

Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party minister Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavlikar, known to be close to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, found himself isolated during the talks. Gadkari had made several visits to Goa in April, during Parrikar’s absence, but was not on the scene during this round. The Goa Forward Party, independents supporting the coalition and even sections of the BJP rejected any proposal to offer Dhavlikar a deputy post to run the government.

Race for the top job

The Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardesai put on a show of strength, arriving to meet the central observers along with the three independents supporting the government. The ambitious Sardesai said he was in favour of a “permanent solution” to the political situation in Goa. An option being proffered by a section of the BJP is to permit the merger of either the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party or the Goa Forward Party with the BJP to bolster the saffron party’s numbers in the Assembly. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party has ruled out any possibility of its merger with the BJP.

Among the options thrown up within the BJP are Ayush Minister of State Shripad Naik, who belongs to Goa’s numerically significant Bhandari community. His appointment to a leadership role could potentially benefit the party in a year when elections are imminent. The soft-spoken, affable Naik entered the state Assembly two decades ago alongside Parrikar when the BJP’s Goa unit was still finding its feet. Over the years, Naik found himself sidelined in state politics, even as Parrikar grew to dominate the party, and discouraged a second line leadership from gaining stature. Less than two weeks ago, Naik’s moves to seek an “alternate leadership” before the party president, on the eve of Parrikar’s third visit to the US, was struck down once again by the chief minister himself.

In 2014, when Parrikar was elevated as India’s defence minister, he chose Laxmikant Parsekar – who was administratively inexperienced – to replace him as Goa chief minister. Parrikar, however, retained control over Goa matters during his frequent weekend visits to the state. First time MLA and Goa Speaker Pramod Sawant is a similar option. Like Parsekar, he has Parrikar’s blessings and is a cadre man. Only the lack of consensus within the alliance and the BJP is believed to have prevented Sawant’s elevation so far. Party president and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Tendulkar’s name is also being thrown into the ring because it ticks all the right boxes.

The key question in the current hunt for a political solution to the stalemate in Goa will hinge on how the BJP attempts to handle Parrikar’s dominance of its Goa unit, its electoral and long-term party interests and the immediate survival of the Goa government. Fortunately for the BJP, its Goa allies have gone out of their way to specify they are not interested in endangering the alliance. As long as the BJP rules at the Centre, they are likely to fall in line with any top-down solution.