Goan roulette

The State needs political stability to be able to crack down on rent-seeking

When Pramod Sawant took office dramatically in the early hours of Tuesday as Chief Minister, it was the 23rd time that the regime in Goa changed since 1963, excluding five spells of President’s Rule. Mr. Sawant’s legislative majority is far from clear and the longevity of his government remains a subject of speculation. The State voted a hung Assembly in 2017, with the BJP winning fewer seats than the Congress. The machinations that led to the installation of a BJP-led government headed by Manohar Parrikar did not match up to any high standards of democracy. Parrikar’s image acted as a veneer for his party’s less than honourable pursuit of power. He was a moderate in the Hindutva party and reached out to Christians, who constitute 25% of the population. His return to the State after leaving the Union Cabinet was a condition set by parties and independents for supporting the BJP. He was able to considerably insulate himself from the afflictions of Goa’s politics. With his passing, politics in Goa could be less restrained. Its politicians should strive hard to prove the sceptics wrong. History, of course, does not counsel optimism.Multiple social and economic factors contribute to the volatility. Goa’s population, as per Census 2011, is just 14.59 lakh, and it is one of the smallest States also in terms of area. There are 40 Assembly constituencies, relatively small in size; most have less than 30,000 voters. Besides the Congress and the BJP, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party and the Nationalist Congress Party are represented in the current Assembly. The main political contest is between the BJP and the Congress, but given the small sizes of constituencies and the close contests, the scope for manipulation of the electoral process is very high. Seasoned political players have perfected the art of setting up multi-cornered contests by fielding independents and fringe political outfits that fragment the votes and turn the tide to their benefit. Goa is the place where the many ills of Indian democracy play out in a stark manner. Land is scarce, with tourism being the mainstay of the economy. Mining, which used to be the other major driver of the economy, has been stalled by the Supreme Court since February last year. There are numerous avenues for political patronage, rent-seeking and generation of dirty money. The political system, rather than acting as a counterweight to the hazardous forces that its economy and geography generate, often ends up accelerating them. A government with a wafer-thin majority is unlikely to address these systemic ills.