By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji, Aug 22 (IANS) Atanasio Monserrate, a politically promiscuous former cabinet minister who was booked in a minor’s rape case last year, may hold the key to Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s winning margin and electoral comeback in state politics as a legislator in the August 23 assembly bypoll.
The coastal state will witness two bypolls on Wednesday.
While in Valpoi, Health Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Vishwajit Rane takes on Roy Naik, son of Congress MLA Ravi Naik, it is the battle for the capital constituency — featuring Parrikar, a former Defence Minister and also the incumbent CM, and Girish Chodankar, the son of a vegetable vendor, currently an AICC official with virtually no electoral pedigree — which has stolen the spotlight.
While Parrikar, a five-time Panaji legislator is the favourite, his campaign appears to lack his characteristic style and individual charisma, and the sudden appearance of the entire cabinet on the campaign trail over the last few days as well as the unprecedented presence of both his sons Utpal and Abhijat in campaign events does indicate an element of anxiety in the Parrikar camp.
Also, the indirect overtures made by Parrikar to Monserrate, a former legislator from an adjoining constituency whose wife is a Congress legislator, also appears to point to tension in the BJP camp.
One of Goa’s most controversial lawmakers, Monserrate was booked for raping a minor girl after spiking her drink in 2016. He has also been accused of forging a school certificate and booked for crimes ranging from extortion to assault.
Monserrate, who has party-hopped nearly half a dozen times in the last decade-and-half, joined a ruling alliance party, Goa Forward, a few weeks before the bypoll, after initially hinting that he would contest against Parrikar.
“In fact, I had issued clear instructions to my workers to extend their support to Manohar Parrikar. Parrikar is a man of stature and doesn’t need anybody’s support to campaign,” Monserrate said.
Parrikar, as opposition leader in 2011, had staged a walkout from the state assembly after Monserrate, a legislator then, was detained at the Mumbai airport by customs authorities for allegedly carrying excess foreign exchange.
Accusing the then Congress-led coalition government of being a government “of smugglers, for smugglers, by smugglers” for shielding Monserrate, he had said: “He could be a conduit for parking money from ministers and politicians abroad.”
With a day to go for polls and Monserrate’s support crucial, Parrikar’s demeanour towards him is a changed one.
Asked to comment on Monserrate’s joining his coalition ally, Goa Forward, Parrikar said in an earlier interview: “I did not tell him anything. It is his decision. Possibly, he must have realised that Congress is trying to use him as a pawn against me. He has a good relation with Goa Forward from the beginning. He is an ally.”
Monserrate controls the Panaji municipal authority and has been both an ally and a thorn-in-the-flesh for Parrikar over the last decade and more.
Even in the current circumstances, while Monserrate has made a public statement expressing support to Parrikar, the BJP leadership says it is not willing to take any chances.
“He has always been temperamental but eventually he has backed Bhai (Parrikar) in some poll campaigns. We are working hard to make sure we can do without his vote bank. If he eventually puts his weight behind us, the margin of victory will be a huge one,” a senior BJP leader told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
Girish Chodankar, on the other hand, was a last minute choice put forward by the Congress after its efforts to field a consensus candidate failed twice.
Chodankar, who hails from Margao town, located 35 km from Panaji, says he is too small a political personality to take on a big leader like Parrikar, but adds a rider.
“It is not me, but the people of Panaji who will defeat Parrikar for the 23 years of mismanagement, U-turns, lack of facilities and now pandering to the casino lobby,” Chodankar told IANS.
The bypolls were necessitated after Panaji’s BJP MLA Sidharth Kuncalienker resigned in order to facilitate Parrikar’s entry to the state legislative assembly, following his return to Goa from the Centre.
In Valpoi, the cause for the bypoll is the resignation of sitting Congress MLA Vishwajit Rane, who quit the party after the results were announced in March 2017, before joining the BJP-led coalition government as Health Minister.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])
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