Last week, when a grey-haired man wearing a blazer with chappals alighted from a cab in the foyer of a five-star hotel in Mumbai and announced he was Manohar Parrikar, the chief minister of Goa, the doorman was on the point of snorting and retorting: “Yeah right and I’m the president of the United States.” But Parrikar’s car hadn’t arrived on time and rather than getting late, he flagged down the nearest taxi and reached the hotel.
This is the paradox that is the new chief minister of Goa. How can a man whose biggest failing is said to be his arrogance, be at once so simple in his personal habits? No convoys of cars accompany Parrikar, there are no Gypsy vans loaded with personal security. Local newspapers noted how he tended to – in the newly expanding cities of Goa that are choked with cars but no civic consciousness – get out of his vehicle to spontaneously start directing traffic. He was once spotted eating fruit-salad at a roadside shack in Panjim.
But it is also a fact that while Parrikar became chief minister of Goa for the first time in October, 2000 – raising the strength of the BJP from four MLAs in 1994 to 17 in 2002 – he could stay chief minister for just two years. He made several mistakes, lost power and was back in office four months later to rule as chief minister till 2005, when he lost the elections largely because of his tendency to believe that only he was honest and everyone else was a thief.
Little was heard of the BJP in Goa after that and for Parrikar, the 2012 Assembly election was a make or break one for his political future. His nearest rival is Shripad Naik, who has been contesting the Lok Sabha elections because the BJP leadership did not want to create rivals in the state. But in this election, the BJP projected no chief minister: so that both Parrikar and Naik would have an equal chance of a stab at the job. If Parikar hadn’t won, the mantle would have passed on.
Parrikar hates being compared to Narendra Modi but it is hard not to compare them. Both are considered good administrators but both have made similar mistakes. Parrikar is not known to say sorry easily but he confessed that during his last tenure, withdrawing Good Friday and the Feast of Francis St Xavier as government holidays was a mistake. The BJP has understandably not been popular with the Christians in Goa. But in the run-up to the 2012 elections, Parrikar made a special effort to reach out. In 2006 Wilfred Mesquita joined the BJP and contested the South Goa Lok Sabha constituency on the symbol of the lotus. In 2012, the BJP fielded six Christian MLAs and supported two others. All eight won. Tough questions were asked in the course of the campaign, especially about the BJP’s role in the Graham Staines episode in Odisha. But Parrikar handled them with aplomb — including apologising for disrespecting Good Friday.
Goa is grappling with fundamental questions of identity and economy. On the one hand, this is the state that said “no” to a special economic zone because creating employment in Goa would bring settlers from outside that would swamp Goan identity. On the other, the state has to contend with a real estate boom without putting in place an urbanisation policy; a mining explosion without a regulatory framework; and issues relating to language (Christian Goans want Konkani and English as the medium of instruction; Maharashtrian Goans want “regional” languages – read Marathi – as the medium of instruction)
Parrikar is trying to deal with all these problems. That he has performed well in the elections helps. The BJP has 21 seats in the house of 40 as against its 2002 tally of 17 seats when it formed a government with the support of other smaller parties and independents. With its allies, the BJP has 26 MLAs in a House of 40.
He has hit the ground running. The Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry has already said Parrikar must stop the flight of capital from the state: Wallace Pharma, a Goa-based pharmaceutical company that had expansion plans in Goa, decided to open its next unit in Himachal Pradesh; and Hindustan Lever, which has a plant in Kundai, had acquired land in Colvale to set up a soap unit but surrendered it opting to go to Pantnagar, Uttarakhand. Parrikar has said he will draw up a new Regional Master Plan for Goa for 2021 and has announced that global tenders for a second airport at Mopa would be floated by September-end. The airport is likely to be operational by 2015. About 80 per cent of land for the project has been acquired and remaining would be acquired in the next few days.
Parrikar studied metallurgical engineering from IIT Bombay and has an engineer’s view of governance. He is methodical, thorough and detailed. The bureaucracy both admires and fears him. Goa may be seeing better days ahead.