Goa

Goa Assembly elections | Sanquelim may not prove a cakewalk for Pramod Sawant

File photo of Pramod Sawant.

File photo of Pramod Sawant.

His political detractors have dubbed him Goa’s ‘accidental Chief Minister’, a ‘puppet’ of the BJP central leadership and ‘property Sawant’. He has faced opposition within his own party while political commentators have found him insipid.

For all the harsh epithets hurled at him, Goa’s Chief Minister has remained unfazed as the party goes to the polls on February 14 for the first time without Manohar Parrikar.

Seeking re-election from Sanquelim for a third time, he has chosen to exhibit his government’s efforts at building the State’s infrastructure, be it the bridge under construction on the Zuari river, the bypass at Canacona or the greenfield airport at Mopa.

While his electoral career began with a crash after he lost a 2008 bypoll from Pale, Mr. Sawant nonetheless rallied to win the 2012 election with a comfortable margin of nearly 7,000 votes from Sanquelim (or Sankhali as it is also known).

In 2017, he won a stiff contest with the Congress’s Dharmesh Saglani. His victory margin was much less than in 2012 - a little over 2,000 votes, with his vote share plummeting by nearly 23%.

Mr. Sawant again faces off with Mr. Saglani as well as potential vote-cutters from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Revolutionary Goans (RG) in the rural parts of Sanquelim, which constitutes Mr. Sawant’s primary base.

Takeover in March 2019

Mr. Sawant took over in March 2019 following Parrikar’s untimely demise.

The contrast between both could not have been starker: Though both are from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre, the 48-year-old Mr. Sawant, an ayurvedic practitioner, is viewed as a docile ‘yes-man’ of the BJP top brass in Delhi.

While Parrikar commanded respect from opponents and his own partymen as well as from all social sections of society as a leader capable of acting independently and tonic down the ‘Hindutva’ rhetoric according to the situation, Mr. Sawant has struggled to shake off the perception that he is remote controlled by the Centre.

In fact, one of his most vitriolic opponents – ex-Independent MLA Rohan Khaunte, who recently joined the BJP, had dubbed him as the BJP’s ‘pappu.’

Others see Mr. Sawant as a ‘grey eminence’, crediting him for engineering the defection of Congress and MGP legislators.Some have condemned Mr. Sawant as a Chief Minister representing a BJP filled with Congressmen and tainted Ministers (Atanasio Monserrate, Milind Naik and Deepak Pauskar to name a few).

Through it all, Mr. Sawant has maintained that his government’s development works over a decade in power will see the BJP through and win absolute majority in this election, even in the Catholic-dominated Salcete taluk.

Minority backing claim

The Chief Minister insists that contrary to popular perception, the BJP has minority backing as it is fielding no less than 12 Christian candidates (nine old faces, three new) in this election – even more the number that Parrikar had fielded.

He faces a number of daunting challenges at the State and constituency levels. Sanquelim is one of the nine seats where the stoppage of mining activities had hit livelihoods hard.

In December last, Mr. Sawant approved a policy, permitting mining companies to export low-grade iron ore, paving the way for resumption of mining activity that has been stalled since 2018.

Municipal council polls

In his own constituency, Mr. Saglani has emerged as a strong challenger after dealing a jolt to the Chief Minister when the former managed to win the Sankhali Municipal Council.

“Pramod Sawant has tried to use the BJP machinery against me. They have used money, police pressure but nothing has worked. We won the council polls by a comfortable margin,” Mr. Saglani said.

But for Mr. Sawant, the most serious challenge is from within the BJP ranks in the form of his Cabinet colleague Vishwajit Rane – veteran Congressman Pratapsingh Rane’s son and Health Minister - who switched over from the Congress.

Mr. Rane’s chief ministerial ambitions are no secret. He and Mr. Sawant represent constituencies (Valpoi and Sanquelim) that share a common border.

The two leaders have frequently clashed over a number of issues at Cabinet meetings – a clash threatened to split the party on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, Cabinet Minister Mauvin Godhino said that Mr. Sawant was not a permanent arrangement and the BJP Parliamentary Board was the final decision maker.


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Printable version | Jun 28, 2022 10:26:44 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/goa-assembly/goa-assembly-elections-sanquelim-may-not-prove-a-cakewalk-for-pramod-sawant/article38393112.ece