By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji — In a case of delicious political irony, Goa Forward MLA Vijai Sardesai, the man often referred to as a ‘fixer’ in public discourse by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, was the one who literally ‘fixed’ Parrikar’s chief ministership.
On Lenten Sunday, when a tired-looking Parrikar and his central cabinet colleague Nitin Gadkari were twiddling thumbs anxiously with 18 MLA – three short of a majority – at a five star resort near Panaji, it was the arrival of the Fatorda MLA Sardesai, which finally sealed the majority alliance for the Defence Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which late on Sunday staked claim to form government in the coastal state.
With Goa throwing up a fractured mandate, regional parties like Goa Foward and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party with three MLAs each, three independent MLAs and a sole Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator were literally worth their weight in gold, but also available for picking.
While the leaders of the Congress, which emerged as the single largest party with 17 seats, squabbled for hours over choice of the party’s legislative wing leader, the BJP, with 13 MLAs in the 40-member state assembly, was more nimble and swift.
The story of how the two parties, BJP and Congress conducted themselves on a day of hectic parleys, could inspire an essay titled ‘A tale of three hotels’.
The Congress leaders, including party general secretary Digvijaya Singh and top state politicians, camped at the iconic Mandovi hotel in Panaji, where for five hours they wrangled over the choice of CLP leader, apart from waiting for Sardesai and other Independents.
State president Luizinho Faleiro, former Chief Ministers Digambar Kamat and Pratapsingh Rane, were potential candidates for the post, but each camp and their proxies rejected each other, wasting precious time.
There was even a secret ballot to select the CLP leader; an exercise whose results were incidentally also kept a secret from the media and the party’s junior MLAs.
By evening, frustrated Congress leaders stepped out of the hotel, with Taleigao MLA Jennifer Monserrate even blaming the party’s “Delhi leaders” for losing the opportunity to select a CLP leader and forge a ruling coalition.
When news filtered in that the BJP, along with supporting MLAs had left for Raj Bhavan to formally stake claim, all party heavy weights declined to accept the CLP leader’s position, which was later ‘unanimously’ offered to three-time MLA from Quepem Chandrakant Kavlekar, who appeared shocked at the sudden elevation.
A bitter Digvijaya Singh accepted the responsibility for the Congress losing the opportunity to form a government, but blamed Independent MLA Rohan Khaunte and Sardesai for ditching the party.
Meanwhile, away in Panaji’s Vivanta by Taj hotel, gritty conversations and hardcore negotiation between Gadkari and Parrikar on the one side and leaders of MGP, GF and Independent MLAs was the order of the day.
Gadkari, who landed in Goa late on Saturday night, mandated by the BJP’s parliamentary board to form a government in the coastal state, engaged in parleys first with MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar from 1 a.m. on Sunday morning.
The discussion was fruitful, the BJP leader said, and ended at around 4 a.m. and after a short break, he met Sardesai at the Cidade de Goa resort near Panaji.
After a brief meeting, Sardesai left for home, claiming he was not happy with the bargain offered by the BJP. By afternoon, Gadkari sent an emissary, brought him back to the resort and sealed the deal, which sources say includes three ministerial berths for the three MLAs of GF.
With MGP, whose leaders enjoy warm ties with Gadkari, and two other independent candidates already in the kitty, Parrikar and his allies left for the Governor’s palace nearby, armed with letters of support.
The letters, signed by leaders of both regional parties and independent legislators, including the one signed by Sardesai, incidentally mentions that the support to the BJP is only subject to Parrikar being Chief Minister.
Ironically, if there is any legislator who has been critical of Parrikar in the last five years, it has been Sardesai, who has blamed Parrikar’s administrative skills as well as repeatedly questioned his credibility, both as Chief Minister of Goa and as Defence Minister.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the deal with the French government to buy Rafale fighter jets last year, it was Sardesai who was among the first to tweet that Parrikar was seen selling fish at a government stall in Goa around the same time.
But on Sunday, Sardesai claimed that Parrikar had the best administrative skills in the BJP’s legislative party. One only hopes Parrikar wasn’t ‘fishing’ for these compliments.