The BJP leadership’s decision to release photographs of ailing Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, ostensibly as evidence that he was participating in the governance of the state, has attracted criticism on social media. The reactions by citizens indicate that the optics of the BJP cynically using a critically ill leader to cling to power, while not permitting him to rest and recover, is beginning to damage the party’s image.

Earlier this week, the chief minister’s office released two images of Parrikar chairing two meetings that took place on October 30 and October 31. The photographs show a gaunt Parrikar propped up by cushions sitting on a sofa at his home, while surrounded by ministers and government officials

Former state election commissioner Prabhakar Timble said the photographs were horrifyingly insensitive. “Please do not make that photo viral,” he said in a social media post. “Forgive them for they know not [what they do].” He added that the “managed picture is a sad reflection that the party and partners do not care enough to give the chief minister an honourable exit.”

A person called Nixon Fernandes wrote on social media: “Our CM looks fragile. Have pity on him. Let him resign gracefully, but no. Those…from Delhi are more interested in saving the BJP government in Goa at the cost of his life.”

A stinging editorial in The Goan daily newspaper criticised the state government for making a mockery of the system, showing scant respect for Parrikar, and attempting to pull the wool over “probing eyes”. It said: “The photo has undoubtedly established the presence of Parrikar, but whether he could administer his responsibilities at the IPB [Investment Promotion Board] meet remains a huge question mark…Governance cannot happen in such seclusion and in no way can these meetings explain the condition of the CM’s health.”

The edit pointed out that though ministers have repeatedly said that Parrikar is “fit”, “improving” and “will be back”, no audio or video message from Parrikar had been released after the two messages he sent from New York in May. It added that neither was there a clip of Parrikar participating in the two meetings nor were any quotes of what he had said there released.

Parrikar’s supporters, however, wished him a speedy recovery. “I salute the committment of this man to his land,” wrote Nihar Amonkar on social media. “While we look for excuses to make life easier, he is making the hard choices. People before self.”

Governance hit

The meetings at the chief minister’s residence in Panjim – where an Intensive Care Unit has been set up to administer to Parrikar – were called after the Goa government came under increased pressure to prove that it was functioning.

Decision-making in the government has slowed down ever since Parrikar first took ill in February. Key issues on the resumption of mining, river water sharing disputes, policy matters on tourism and casinos, job creation and clearance of project proposals have been on hold. On October 30, seven projects were cleared at the Investment Promotion Board meeting at Parrikar’s residence, while the cabinet meeting held on October 31 was the first since August.

At the chief minister’s office, Parrikar’s principal secretary and secretary are reducing his oral instructions to orders of approval, maintaining a log of them. “It may be an unusual arrangement,” a senior bureaucrat said. “But I am duty bound to make things work.”

The Opposition has alleged that the chief minister’s office is being controlled by a cabal of partymen and close functionaries, especially during the long periods when Parrikar was hospitalised. Even now, the risk of infection has meant that paper files and personal interaction with the chief minister has been kept to a minimum, fueling further questions about the nature and quality of governance in the state.

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar chairs a meeting of the Goa Investment Promotion Board on October 30. (Photo credit: CMO Goa/Facebook).

BJP’s fractious coalition

The BJP kept the nature of Parrikar’s illness under wraps for months since it could not find an alternative to lead the coalition, and risked losing the government due to infighting. But the tussle for the chief minister’s chair – both within the BJP and among members of the coalition – shows no signs of a resolution. The BJP has not even been able to nominate a deputy because of disagreements within the coalition.

Parrikar has been treated at New York, Mumbai, Goa and New Delhi this year. He returned to Goa in an air ambulance on October 14 from Delhi, where he was being treated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. He has been confined to his home since then. No medical bulletin on the status of his health has been officially released – for politically strategic reasons – and the state party president Vinay Tendulkar continues to hold that his condition is improving.

But contenders for the top job increased pressure on the party to take a leadership call this week by discussing Parrikar’s illness with the media. On October 28, Health Minister Vishwajit Rane said Parrikar has pancreatic cancer – the first official admission of the nature of his ailment. On October 5, deputy speaker Michael Lobo had said there was “no positivity” about Parrikar’s condition and indicated that his illness had damaged his hearing abilities.

But despite his illness, Parrikar is still the BJP’s tenuous link to power in the state. The BJP – wrestling with a leadership crisis, the absence of two other sick ex-ministers, assertive allies, and a revolt within its local unit – is looking at a bleak future in Goa.