From an ayurveda practitioner and an RSS footsoldier to becoming the Goa chief minister, 46-year-old Pramod Sawant has come a long way. The two-time MLA from Sankhalim in North Goa, Sawant, was Speaker of the state Assembly, and a dedicated RSS worker.
The politician, recently seen in the RSS uniform at a Sangh event, was on Monday sworn in as the new chief minister of Goa following Manohar Parrikar’s death.
His elevation to the top post in the coastal state followed hectic parleys between the BJP and its alliance partners. But it didn’t quite come as a surprise, because those who understand the state’s polity were already expecting Parrikar’s right hand man to be given the responsibility.
His quiet demeanour, the fact that he keeps to himself, and gets work done without much fanfare is what endeared him to Parrikar.
According to a report in The Indian Express, Sawant was the man on whom Parrikar relied in his final days, to get the work done. He enjoyed immense backing and trust from the late leader. And it was this reputation that made him an easier choice, especially when party leaders (and allies) were known to harbour higher ambitions.
Sawant won the 2012 and 2017 Assembly elections from North Goa’s Sankhalim constituency, which used to be a Congress stronghold.
He was among the few BJP MLAs who got re-elected in their constituencies during the state polls two years ago, when the party managed to win only 13 seats as compared to the 21 in the 2012 elections.
When Parrikar cobbled up an alliance with the Goa Forward Party, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and Independents in 2017 despite the Congress being the single largest party, Sawant was elected the Assembly Speaker. Sawant will now have to prove his majority in the same Assembly.
Speaking to the reporters after his swearing-in, the new chief minister said the party had given him a huge responsibility, and gave credit to Parrikar for his rise. “Whatever I am today is all due to Manohar Parrikar. It was he who brought me to politics. I became the Speaker and the chief minister today, due to him,” he said after meeting the Governor.
He is a former chairman of the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation, a special purpose vehicle set up by Parrikar to take up various infrastructure works in the coastal state.
Sawant holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery from Ganga Education Society’s Ayurvedic College in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. His wife Sulakshana heads the BJP Mahila Morcha in Goa.
Meanwhile, Sawant’s task is cut out before him, and the shoes he intends to fill are large.
Parrikar was heading a coalition government comprising the BJP, three MLAs each of the Goa Forward Party (GFP), the MGP and three independents, many of whom had made it a precondition for support that the then defence minister must be made chief minister. Sawant must now take the alliance partners together and quell any infighting within the party to continue governing for the rest of the Goa government’s tenure.
The Congress is currently the single largest party in the state with 14 MLAs. The BJP has 12 legislators in the 40-member Assembly, whose strength now is 36 after Parrikar’s death. The strength of the House has reduced due to demise of BJP MLA Francis D’Souza earlier this year, and Parrikar on Sunday, and resignations of two Congress MLAs Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte last year. All the state Congress MLAs met Governor Mridula Sinha on Monday and staked claim to form government in the coastal state. The MLAs, led by Leader of the Opposition Chandrakant Kavlekar, went to Raj Bhawan and handed over a letter to Sinha, saying it was the single largest party in the Assembly and should be allowed to form the government.
With Parrikar gone, and given the precarious numbers in either camp, Sawant’s real test will be to keep the NDA flock intact, especially the allies who will want a bigger share and say in the state government.