Status quo and beyond: On Pramod Sawant

Chief Minister Sawant needs to build on Goa's strong fundamentals

March 23, 2022 12:02 am | Updated 01:04 am IST

By retaining incumbent Pramod Sawant as the Chief Minister of the State, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to maintain the status quo as far as leadership was concerned. Under Mr. Sawant’s helmsmanship, the party won 20 of the 40 seats in the Assembly, which was an improvement on its tally in 2017 — 13 seats. But in terms of vote share, the party barely added 0.8 percentage points. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)-Lokniti survey for the State pointed out that only 31% of the respondents were keen on the ruling party returning to power and it was the fragmented Opposition with a bevy of political outfits in the fray that helped the BJP to retain power. Former Congress leader Vishwajit Rane’s name was also doing the rounds as a possible replacement, but the BJP went with the incumbent. Mr. Sawant’s retention clearly suggests that the BJP was not keen on rocking the boat in a fragile political ecosystem, where party identification for legislators has been prone to frequent changes. The BJP government has also received support from two MLAs of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and three Independents, which should ensure that stability will not be a concern for the regime.

The mandate also suggests that Mr. Sawant’s government needs to perform much better. Unemployment and development issues mattered the most to the Goan voters, who were also displeased with the management of the pandemic by the government. Goa is a State with high human development indices relative to the rest of the country — it has the highest per capita income, among the lowest poverty rates, among the highest literacy rates and scores high on access to good quality education with a low drop-out rate from schools. But it also registers among the highest unemployment rates in States — the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE)’s latest unemployment survey data show an unemployment rate of 12% in the State; only six States had a higher figure. The novel coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on an economy in which tourism, a prominent sector, took a major hit. The post-COVID-19 recoveries in the travel and tourism industry should help the State going forward, but the government can do much better in leveraging the State’s high literacy and developing its food processing, IT services and biotechnology sectors, to diversify an economy that used to be dependent on environmentally costly mining activities. Mr. Sawant’s administration must focus on utilising Goa’s good socio-economic indicators and take holistic development forward. A vibrant polity with a healthy and committed Opposition that is not fixated on gaining access to power — Goans rated the quality of individual candidates as a key variable for their choice — can help in this process too.

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