Delegation to ‘save mining’ to Delhi was nothing but an attempted political show of strength
About three years ago, on a cool winter morning, Sudin Dhavalikar’s day had begun, with cymbals and temple bells in the background, religious and political devotees at this doorstep and in the large verandah which goes around his home in the heart of the Mahalakshmi temple precincts at Bandora.
That is his sanctum sanctorum, where he juggles his religious and priestly affiliations with his politics, with absolute elan. Politics after all is his religion. Once the morning wore on and the crowds thinned, after petitions were accepted and assurances given, Dhavalikar took a walk around a water pond speaking about his plans for the 2017 elections. He was very clear that he saw his own political future deeply linked and intrinsic to the MGP, the party he has fronted and kept politically relevant and in power. But deep within Dhavalikar knew that the MGP was his show. At the end of that meeting this writer asked him, “Don’t you sometimes feel that you have waited for long to become Chief Minister”. He smiled and said quietly, “No government is possible without us, but after 26 years in politics that is a final ambition.”
For some brief moments on March 11 and 12 last year, after the Assembly results and before the formation of the Parrikar-led coalition government, Dhavalikar was in the mix, with the Congress willing to even offer him the top job and back the MGP to keep the BJP out. But Dhavalikar realised that his special relationship with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari wouldn’t allow him to go anywhere else.
When the Parrikar-led government with the BJP severely depleted in strength kick-started the coalition in 2017, it was the Goa Forward, which was aggressive in pushing its agenda and plans with statements and press conferences. Meanwhile in the MGP legislative party, Sudin Dhavalikar invested time and energy in keeping the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways headed by Nitin Gadkari in good humour. Clearly for Dhavalikar, he saw his PWD portfolio as a stepping stone for bigger things. And it was as clear to anyone who didn’t miss the wood for the trees that Sudin, is eyeing for the fulfillment of his personal political goal, without letting the party’s future expansion plans coming in the way of his decision making.
And it is here where a very interesting and a dynamic political churning is taking place. All along Sudin Dhavalikar had managed to keep his ambition for the top job under the radar, and had even convinced himself that he would have to wait it out for another term. However, Chief Minister Parrikar’s sudden illness, due to which we are looking at prolonged period of time away from office, pitch-forked Dhavalikar into the leadership limelight. The manner in which he adjusted to the spotlight, was, however, a tad surprising, even for the BJP. Within a day of the Chief Minister giving a go ahead to Chief Secretary Dharmendra Sharma for Dhavalikar to preside over the cabinet meeting as well as present the budget, when the Chief Minister was in hospital in Mumbai, Dhavalikar started calling officials of the Finance Department for a complete briefing. Now, this might have been a normal course of action for someone wanting to keep himself abreast during the period of his charge. But this was construed as a sign of over-reaching when all that was required of him was to be a custodian for a few days to merely table the budget so that the financial spending of the government could be taken care of for the next five months or so.
In about twenty four hours, in a room at Lilavati hospital Mumbai, an ailing and weak Manohar Parrikar gathered all the strength of his will and boosted by medical treatment, to defy odds and come to Goa, for a five minute Assembly presence where he tabled the budget and rushed back home. All the Chief Minister did as he drove away from the Assembly, was drive home a pointing that as long as he had the strength, he wouldn’t allow anyone to nurse ambitions larger than what the current ground situation is, on who is in charge.
But that didn’t really deter the temple priest who conducts his business of politics with the demeanour of a monk. With tension building up in the mining belt as the countdown to a practical mining shutdown on March 16, Dhavalikar emerged to lead a delegation of some MLAs from the mining belt under the garb of an all party delegation (without any Goa Forward ministers). The Goa Forward’s Vijai Sardesai saw through the plan and decided to give the visit a slip by saying he missed his flight. Sudin Dhavalikar’s purpose was clear. Project himself as a political pivot around which the mining crisis would be discussed and attempted to be resolved. In the process, he would pitch himself as the consensus candidate to hold Goa’s reigns if Chief Minister Parrikar was forced to take a medical related innings break.
Dhavalikar is clearly trying to fish in the troubled murky waters of mining. And the outburst of Curchorem MLA Nilesh Cabral to a local TV channel stating that there is no government in Goa because even the cabinet meeting to deliberate of the impact the closure of all mining operations needed an online approval “from New York”, where the Chief Minister is. Dhavalikar is happy to feed off this frustration to create ground for hands on leadership.
However, it isn’t as easy as it sounds or looks. The BJP is not going to simply roll over and allow Dhavalikar to emerge on top of the chain of command. Powerful sections of the BJP organisation remember all too clearly, how MGP was instrumental for either the dent of votes or the loss of the BJP in some of the key constituencies in the last elections. Senior BJP leaders who lost, like Laxmikant Parsekar, Rajendra Arlekar and others, do not see the political prudence of handing over governance to Dhavalikar. Therefore there is a counter movement within the BJP to allow a man from the organisation emerge as an alternate to Dhavalikar.
In fact this section of the BJP prefers to take Vijai Sardesai into confidence rather than Sudin Dhavalikar for a continued alignment. At the same time there are doubts whether the other two MGP MLAs are with Sudin Dhavalikar. Babu Azgaonkar is clear to the point of almost going public that he is his own man and not bound by decisions initiated by Dhavalikar. Deepak Pawaskar from Sanvordem, did go to Delhi but his loyalty to Sudin Dhavalikar hasn’t quite been pronounced.
But the gloves are slowly coming off, as ambitions soar. On Saturday, as the week closed, his brother and party President Deepak Dhavalikar stated on the foundation day function of the MGP, “MG party will back Sudin to lead government, in case instability prevails. We don’t want any other leadership except Parrikar or Sudin”. The ambitions have become official statements of fact. And it clearly marks the battle ground where the Dhavalikar-led MGP is positioning itself the “Leadership is waiting”. The BJP in Goa isn’t quite in a mood to accept that position, while the Goa Forward is keen to continue its relationship with the BJP and doesn’t quite want Dhavalikar to come in their way.
This wily political warhorse, Sudin, has waited many summers to realise his ultimate political dream but soaring ambition has led him to play his cards too soon and may lead to his political winter of discontent.