Hours after former Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was cremated with state honours, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Pramod Sawant was sworn-in as his successor in a ceremony that was first supposed to take place at 9 pm on Monday, but was eventually conducted just before 2 am. The frenzied late-night politicking put a temporary cap on electoral turmoil within the state, where Parrikar had loomed large over a fractured state assembly with no party able to form the government by itself.
Though leaders from both sides publicly decried all the deal-making that was proceeding practically alongside the last rites of the former chief minister, it was, in some ways, a perfect tribute to Parrikar, who was known for being able to manage difficult coalitions on the strength of his own personality.
“Whatever I am today is all due to Manohar Parrikar,” said Pramod Sawant, the new chief minister. “It was he who brought me to politics, I became the Speaker and the CM today, due to him.”
Sawant will now have to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly, though that seems quite straightforward after the BJP agreed to give a deputy chief-minister position each to its two allies in the state.
Goa normally has an Assembly strength of 40 seats. But the death of Parrikar and another BJP MLA, and the resignation of two more Congress MLAs (who defected to the BJP), meant that the house currently only has 36 members. Of these there are
- 14 Congress MLAs
- 12 BJP MLAs
- 3 Goa Forward Party MLAs
- 3 Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MLAs
- 3 Independents
- 1 NCP MLA
Even though the Congress had won the most seats in elections in 2017, the BJP had moved quicker to secure support from both the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, as well as the independents. Yet, at the time these two parties and the independents had only come on board on the understanding that Parrikar, then the Union Defence Minister, would become the chief minister.
The death of Parrikar, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but remained in office until the very end, saw claimants from both the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party for the chief ministerial spot. The Congress also approached the state’s governor with a claim, insisting that, as the single-largest party, it should be given the first chance to form the government.
This demand, along with fears that taking too long to decide on a new chief minister would force the governor to keep the assembly in suspended animation until bypolls to the vacant seats will be held, forced the BJP to carry out its deal-making almost alongside the ceremonies that followed Parrikar’s death.
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Behind the scenes
The BJP first said the deal was done and that it would have a swearing-in for the new cabinet at 9 pm. Then news emerged that two of the three Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MLAs would break away and join the BJP (presumably to bolster the saffron party’s claim to form government, since it would put it on 14 seats, at par with the Congress). Yet as the clock ticked on, it was clear there were still deals being struck.
Finally just before 2 am, ayurvedic practitioner-turned-politician Sawant was sworn in as chief minster, with Goa Forward Party chief Vijai Sardesai and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MLA Sudin Dahavalikar as deputy chief minister, the first time the small state has two deputies. Eleven other MLAs, who were also part of Parrikar’s Cabinet, were sworn in as ministers.
In the final count, the BJP alliance has 21 members, putting it over the half-way mark of 18. The coalition should remain in place, at least until Lok Sabha elections – Goa has two seats – which are a little over a month away. But without Parrikar around, it is almost certain that both the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party will push harder to have their way in government. Will the new chief minister, Pramod Sawant, prove as adept at handling competing demands as his predecessor?