BJP hopes hinge on IIT engineer in Goa

By Frederick Noronha


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Panaji (Goa) : He's the poster boy of IITian achievers in the world of politics. His fans have seen him as a do-er and achiever. Manohar Parrikar is the man on whom the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) fortunes depend wholly on in Goa.

Parrikar (51) has a B. Tech degree in metallurgy from the prestigious IIT-Bombay, and his chess-player like strategising has been the single most important factor in changing the face of Goan politics since the early 1990s.

From four seats in 1994 to ten in the next election (1989) to 17 seats by 2002, the growth of the Parrikar-led BJP in Goa has been impressive.

But behind these figures lies another story-of how the workaholic IITian has managed to divide the Congress support base, win over impossible allies, work on electoral strategies that divides the rival's vote-share, and fight on determinedly to stay on in power in a difficult situation.

In Goa's June 2 elections, results of which are due on June 5, Parrikar has already been acknowledged as the unquestioned chief ministerial candidate for the BJP, in case that party comes to power.

Parrikar has been feted by IITians, hero-worshipped by a section of expat Goan professionals, and feared by those who see him as an ideologue whose party has aggravated communal situation in Goan towns like Sanvordem and Margao.

But without him, the BJP has virtually no other leaders who could hold fort in Goa. Its earlier strategy of winning over Congress dissidents came unstuck after the BJP lost power at the centre, and these politicians returned to their party.

In the run-up to the June 2 elections, Parrikar's image loomed larger than life.

Advertisements favouring him termed him the only hope for Goa, but his critics showed a photograph of him in the uniform of the Hindutva right-wing RSS organisation.

Parrikar comes from Goa's influential Saraswat Brahmin community, which is dominant in the world of business and professions, but hasn't had much of a direct say in political power for since the 'sixties.

This, together with his appeal to the upper-crust professional, could both help him or dent into his image, as he seeks re-election to the Panaji seat for the fourth time in a row.

Speaking on cable TV, as a politician who realises how close victory can be from defeat, Parrikar sounded both retrospect. He conceded in an interview that he may have been somewhat arrogant in his earlier tenure, but promised that had changed.

He also argued that his wife had died shortly before he had taken over power, and resultantly he worked for eighteen hours a day-he was known to diligently read official files even while travelling in government cars. This, probably, had led to heightened irritability then, he contended.

For those not quite convinced, a large newspaper advert said it all: "Mr Parrikar's attitude or even his views don't matter. What matters is he works sincerely. He does the damned job, most efficiently," said an advert, attributed to having being issued in "public interest" by a retired captain.