Mumbai: In 2012, Vijai Sardesai got elected as an independent legislator and sat on the opposition benches of the Goa assembly. On Monday, the politician, now a legislator of the regional Goa Forward Party (GFP), completed a full circle when he once again took seat amid the opposition as the monsoon session of the Goa legislature began.
For Sardesai, the seven years between then and now were a whirlwind ride where the 49-year-old politician saw his popularity spiral, tasted dizzying success and heady power as he came the closest that he has ever been to the chief minister’s chair, before a sudden unceremonious fall.
From Youth Congress president to deputy CM in BJP govt
Vijai Sardesai, also a real estate developer, started his political career as a student politician and even steered the youth wing of the Congress. He rose in the party’s ranks, and then severed ties with it in 2012 after failing to get a party ticket to contest the assembly polls. Sardesai contested as an independent from South Goa’s Fatorda constituency and won.
In the five years from 2012 to 2017, Sardesai surged to significance with his bitter criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and former chief minister Manohar Parrikar.
A Goa Congress leader who did not wish to be named said, “He targeted the government more vociferously than many of the Congress legislators too and especially criticised Parrikar. Then later he suddenly took a U-turn.”
In one of his campaign speeches ahead of the 2017 elections, Sardesai slammed the BJP for “political arrogance”.
Within months of this statement, Sardesai, who had in 2016 formed his GFP, helped the BJP form its government with the support of his party’s three MLAs including himself despite Congress having the popular mandate. He ignored critics lashing out at him for his U-turn, saying the Congress had deserted him more than once.
In the patchwork government comprising the BJP, Sardesai’s GFP, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and independents, Sardesai emerged as one of the key leaders calling the shots and running Goa. He held important portfolios such as town and country planning and agriculture. When former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, ailing with pancreatic cancer, was in and out of the state for medical treatment, Sardesai was one of the three cabinet leaders the CM appointed to oversee day-to-day administration.
After Parrikar’s death in March, Sardesai was one of the few leaders on whom the BJP’s fortunes in Goa hinged. He bargained long and hard through the night after former CM Parrikar died and secured the deputy CM’s post along with MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar. Within days, the BJP-led government dropped Dhavalikar fortifying itself with the support of two MGP legislators who merged with the BJP.
Four months later, Sardesai suffered the same fate. As the BJP firmly anchored itself in Goa with the support of ten Congress legislators, Sardesai lost his cabinet rank, his prestigious position of deputy CM, and his clout.
Shrewd political manager
Political commentator Cleofato Coutinho said in this whole process, Vijai Sardesai’s popular image has definitely taken a beating, but it is still too early to dismiss him.
“In his early days as a legislator, Sardesai caught the imagination of the people. He caught my imagination too. Everybody saw him as a man who could be the future in Goa’s politics. But, he went after power and immediately after promising to never back the BJP government, he went ahead and did so. People are unlikely to forgive him any time soon,” Coutinho said.
“But, he is a shrewd political manager, so it is too early to dismiss him yet. He will always find a way to remain politically relevant,” he said, adding that staging a protest at Miramar, where Parrikar was cremated is one example of his astute political management.
Coutinho said, “It is not that Sardesai’s action prompted people to get carried away by emotion, but it was great optics. The news made it to second lead in most Goan dailies. Despite being made irrelevant, Sardesai managed to remain politically relevant.”
Speaking to reporters at Miramar Saturday after the BJP inducted Congress MLAs amid much criticism, Sardesai invoked Parrikar’s legacy. “Parrikar has died once again today.”
“We were told to resign, but I said make your central leadership tell me. I wanted to see which member of the central leadership will have the moral authority to tell me to resign when I have rejected offers to become the CM. There was a standing offer from them (Congress) for the past 2 and a half years. I sacrificed all this. I am not regretting the sacrifice,” he added.
A former Goa minister who did not wish to be named said despite the BJP’s “undemocratic behaviour”, Sardesai is not being necessarily seen as a victim because he also misused his position as a minister and deputy CM.
“He rampantly converted forest land to residential, commercial, benefitted hotels. But, having said that, the BJP has almost finished democracy in Goa. People should have ideally been angry enough to hit the streets. What we desperately need now is a revolt from the people,” said the former minister.