Mumbai: As Goa struggles to contain a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases, with a test positivity rate as high as 50 per cent, a political tug of war between Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is escalating.
Sawant and Rane have locked horns over policy decisions such as imposing lockdown-like restrictions and the supply of oxygen to Covid-positive patients.
The two BJP ministers’ most recent fracas came Tuesday, after 26 Covid patients died at the Goa Medical College and Hospital due to shortage of oxygen. Sawant said there was enough oxygen and the crisis was due to “mismanagement” in getting the oxygen to the hospital, while Rane claimed many patients were dying due to problems with oxygen supply over the past few days and called the CM “misinformed”.
The ruling BJP has, however, dismissed the clash as just a “difference of opinion”. Goa BJP president Sadanand Tanavade told ThePrint: “There is no conflict. There are just differences of opinion, but the issue is resolved now.”
Goa, a small state with a population of about 14 lakh, has till now recorded 1,27,639 Covid-19 cases, of which 32,791 are active. Wednesday, the state recorded 2,865 new Covid cases with a test positivity rate of 41.4 per cent, and 70 new deaths.
Seeds of conflict
Vishwajit Rane, son of Congress MLA and former CM Pratapsingh Rane, had defected to the BJP in 2017 to help the party boost its numbers and form a government, even though the Congress had emerged as the single largest party. In 2018, the younger Rane is said to have engineered the defection of two Congress MLAs to the BJP to further cushion the party in the 40-member assembly.
After CM Manohar Parrikar’s death, Rane was hopeful of getting the top job, but while the BJP leadership considered his name, it chose Sawant for being a thoroughbred Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader who had grown within the BJP cadre.
With the next assembly polls in Goa scheduled in 2022, political analysts say Rane may be trying to flex his muscles.
Goa-based political analyst Cleofato Coutinho said: “It may be Rane’s game plan to show Sawant in a bad light. The pandemic was an opportunity for the CM to shine, but his image is taking a hit. The opposition too largely seems to be attacking the CM, and not the health minister.”
Coutinho added: “MLA Babush (Atanasio) Monseratte asked for the CM to take over the health portfolio. Such a snub against Rane wouldn’t have come without the CM being in the know.”
Clash over lockdown, oxygen supply
As Covid cases in Goa spiked in April, the first point of clash between the two BJP ministers was over whether to impose a lockdown.
On 26 April, Rane said on Twitter: “In view of surge in deaths due to COVID-19, we shall be holding an emergency meeting with the Hon’ble CM @DrPramodPSawant to deliberate on stringent measures to be put in place. In addition to that, Goa definitely needs to go under lockdown on lines of other states like Maharashtra & Karnataka for a particular period. More than economic activities, the lives of the people matter to us. I am confident that Hon’ble CM will be supportive.”
…Maharashtra & Karnataka for a particular period. More than economic activities, the lives of the people matter to us.
I am confident that Hon'ble CM will be supportive. The Government is doing its best, but it is also up to the citizens to follow all the SOPs.
— VishwajitRane (@visrane) April 26, 2021
Almost immediately, CM Sawant told reporters that the government had not taken any decision to impose a lockdown in Goa. He said: “I have seen the tweet and will speak to him personally… If we do a lockdown, we will witness the situation of last March, April and May, and labourers will start leaving the state. Construction activities will come to a standstill.”
The CM eventually announced a two-week lockdown starting 9 May. However, the conflict between the two leaders became even more evident when Rane gave an interview to US-based CNN, blaming much of the current crisis on the delay in imposing curbs.
“This (the lockdown restrictions) should have come much earlier. If you go through my tweets, I had suggested a stringent lockdown more than 15 days back,” Rane said.
“Anyway, 15 days back was also too late; we needed the lockdown more than a month back. Sometimes, administratively, economically, we need to take decisions that have a balance. Sometimes as administrators, we make some errors in judgment and I think this is one of those cases,” he added.
Sources in the Goa government said Rane was also miffed when Sawant decided to take over the monitoring of oxygen supply earlier this month after the Goa Association of Resident Doctors wrote about it, among other issues, to the dean of the Goa Medical College and Hospital. CM Sawant said, neither the dean of the medical college, Dr S.M. Bandekar, nor Rane brought the issue to his notice.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)