Manohar Parrikar is likely to continue as defence minister, notwithstanding his projection as the BJP’s face in poll-bound Goa.
Parrikar has not been declared the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, but party chief Amit Shah and Union minister Nitin Gadkari projected him as the face of the party in Goa that will vote on February 4.
Top BJP leaders told HT that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not ready to relieve Parrikar of his national assignment. He gave his approval to project Parrikar in Goa only when he was convinced that without a subtle projection of him in the election campaign, the BJP stood no chance of returning to power.
On January 12, Gadkari, also BJP’s Goa in charge, hinted at the possible return of a “central leader” as chief minister if the MLAs were unable to elect their leader.
Shah took it a step further last Sunday, when he asked people to vote keeping in mind that the new chief minister will work under Parrikar’s guidance. Parrikar is now the most prominent local face in BJP posters in Goa.
“You have to interpret these statements. I have never said no to the party,” Parrikar had told HT in an interview.
The defence minister has always been reluctant about his move to Delhi. Given a choice, he would want to return. But sources privy to the discussions claim the Prime Minister wants to retain him. “It is important for Modi to have a clean face in the defence ministry, which is prone to controversies related to procurements,” a BJP leader said.
At least three surveys done by the BJP showed that it stood little chance of coming back to power without Parrikar as its face.
Chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar is seen as a non-controversial face but hasn’t been able to take the people along. BJP’s ally, the MGP, parted ways on the eve of the election and Parsekar could not control the rebellion by RSS Goa chief, Subhash Velingkar. His administration, too, left the BJP unimpressed.
The feedback was shared with the Prime Minister, who then approved the “tactical move” for a veiled projection of Parrikar as the BJP’s face. “We did not say that Parrikar will return. We said he might,” a BJP office-bearer explained.
BJP’s problem in Goa lies in the lack of a face, charismatic enough, to match Parrikar’s.
Union minister Sripad Naik, too, is ruled out for the chief ministerial job, party sources said. He is largely seen as the ‘Hindu face’ of the BJP with limited appeal among the Christian community.
Who becomes chief minister in the event of BJP returning to power will also depend on the party’s strength in the 40-member assembly. A clear majority will allow the BJP leadership to have its say, a split verdict will lead to a tug of war for the hot seat. Panaji MLA Sidharth Sripad Kuncalienker, who got elected to the assembly in 2015 from seat vacated by Parrikar, is seen as a dark horse in the electoral race.