Dr Pramod Sawant was made the Chief Minister of Goa in March 2019 after the demise of then Chief Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar and has had less than three years to make a mark. As the State gears up for elections, Dr Sawant was in Delhi for some important meeting with the BJP central leadership. Taking time out of his hectic schedule, the Chief Minister spoke exclusively to Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar and Senior Correspondent Nishant Kumar Azad. Excerpts:
As far as national politics is concerned, the upcoming elections to the five States are going to be crucial, though the major focus will be on Uttar Pradesh. In the post-Parrikar era, you have become the face of BJP in Goa. You had a tough time managing the affairs of the State, especially balancing the coalition. Going forward, what are the challenges you foresee for BJP?
This is not the first election we are fighting post-Shri Manohar Parrikar’s demise. We had faced the Lok Sabha elections as well as bypolls. Shri Manohar Parrikar was a great leader, and we have progressed today to reach here due to his blessings. Similarly, we are also confident that we will win this Assembly election. With the help of the Narendra Modi Government at the Centre, the double engine government has done the development of the State in the last eight years, which didn’t happen in the previous fifty years. Definitely, the people of Goa will prefer the BJP Government again in Goa.
There is another reason why Goa is seen differently this time. For the first time, there are new entrants into Goa politics. Earlier, it was mostly a bipolar affair, though there were some smaller parties. Now, AAP and TMC are coming with new agendas and claiming they are coming as alternatives. How do you see this?
Only TMC is a newcomer. AAP contested in the 2017 Assembly elections. Other regional parties also existed earlier. The people of Goa know what these parties are doing in their respective States: They know what is happening in Delhi and West Bengal. People of Goa know the kind of things that happened after the elections in those States. The people of Goa want to ensure that such bad political culture should not come here and thus want the clean governance of BJP to return.
Mining, a sector that has been awaiting revival, is now among the top election issues in Goa with every political player offering to restart it. Mining, an important source of livelihood along with tourism, came to a standstill after a Supreme Court order in 2018. However, the mining activity in the State stopped in 2012, as the issue of illegal mining was under litigation. There have been a lot of promises made during the election that mining will restart, but there has been no progress on it. What is the status of mining resumption in Goa, and what are your plans to restart it?
We have taken two significant decisions related to mining. We have formed the mining corporation in the State, which has started functioning. After the Government of India declared a dumping policy, we also implemented dump policy in Goa. This will result in the resumption of the mining activities in the State and the ores which were termed dump will get explored. The procedure to lease mining auctions by the mining corporation has also started. If the BJP Government is re-elected, mining activities, ore extraction will start again in Goa on a large scale.
But regarding environmental concerns to this, there is a civil society group formed in the State which has come up with its own manifesto. These things matter a lot in the politics of Goa as they are related to perception building and opinion-making.
We talk about sustainable development. We do want mining activity in Goa but in a sustainable way. The BJP Government has never promoted any destructive activity in mining; we have done all the work keeping in mind the matter of the environment. As a result, the rank of Goa in Sustainable Development has improved from 7 to 3.
What are the things that make Goa one of the best-governed States in India?
In the category of small States, we are definitely on the topmost and have improved our overall ranking from 7 to 3. Security, health infrastructure, tap water in every house, open defecation free and various similar parameters we were ahead.
How do you plan to reach out to the people during the election campaign?
We fulfilled 70 per cent of the promises we gave in our manifesto. To realise the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of AatmaNirbhar Bharat, we have designed the project of Swayampurna Goa, under which we are approaching all the villages and Gram Panchayats.
Do you think that your development initiatives slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Will the new variant of Omicron, will hamper your election prospects?
Yes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several initiatives were to be withheld. However, we did many projects in the pandemic period. The new variant of Omicron will definitely affect us, but we are managing the situation effectively, without hampering any economic activity. We are showing the people through virtual mode whatever we have done so far.
AAP is trying to make education and employability a key issue in its election campaign by invoking the education model of Delhi, which you countered by saying that Goa has a far better education model.
Goa has the best education model in the country; it has the best education infrastructure starting from primary education to higher education. We have passed the private university Bill, due to which many private university players are coming to Goa. National Science Forensic University and the National University of Law has started functioning in Goa. Similar educational institutes are coming up in the near future.
Although Hindus are a majority, Goa’s cultural identity has been portrayed as Christian. Recently you announced that the temple culture of the State will be revived. Don’t you think that this can irk the Christians?
No, not at all. The actual culture of Goa should be shown to the tourists. Whether it is through temple tourism or hinterland tourism, our purpose is to showcase the real culture of Goa.
Currently, we are celebrating the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. Goa had its parallel freedom struggle, the longest in the history of India. Have you thought of or taken any initiative to showcase Goa’s history of freedom struggle at the national level?
Yes, currently, we are celebrating 60 years of liberation of Goa, and as part of the celebration, we have made a short movie showing the real facts about the liberation struggle. While the rest of India got Independence in 1947, we got liberated in 1961, almost 14 years later. Thus, we plan to bring the facts about the struggle we did in those 14 years. We have established a Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj chair in the University of Goa to study and research Goa’s ancient history and the freedom struggle of Goa.
There are rumours regarding internal strife in BJP, due to which some its leaders, including sitting ministers who either joined Congress or AAP.
BJP is the party whose motto is ‘Nation First’. Only those people who didn’t get tickets for their kith and kin left the party, but dedicated members of the party are still with the party.
Before the elections, the notorious Colombian king of cocaine ‘Pablo Escobar’ has become a talking point in the coastal State’s politics. Former Water Resources Minister and sitting opposition MLA Vinod Palienkar claimed that one ‘Pablo Escobar’ was running an extensive drug network in Goa, especially his coastal constituency of Siolim, and added that if he named the brain behind the narcotic mafia, he would be killed the next day. Drug culture is a major issue in Goa. What has the Goa Government done to curb the issue?
We have made sure that the drug mafia and drug businesses in the State are checked, and their activities hampered.
Please tell us about the developments in the maritime cluster and Verna Industrial Estate.
We have started the first maritime cluster of Goa, Konkan Maritime Cluster, with the help of the Government of India.
How do you see the performance of the BJP Government in the State?
I see it positively; the double engine Government has done far more developmental work in the State.
Which are the tasks you think you would like to undertake in future?
To contribute to Prime Minister Modiji’s AatmaNirbhar Bharat Mission, we have started the Swayampurna Goa mission to make Goa self-reliant and provide employment to each and every resident of Goa. Whether agriculture, horticulture, tourism, we want to achieve the target in every sector.
How many seats do you think BJP is going to win in Goa?
BJP will win 22+ seats in the Goa Vidhan Sabha elections, which I can tell you confidently.
(With Yatharth Sikka)