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Why do Goan mine owners squirm on hearing ‘Jindal bells, Jindal bells, Jindal all the way’

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By Sujay Gupta

(Sujay Gupta is Founding Editor The Goa Spotlight and tweets @sujaygupta0832)

 

 

This is an in-depth report and analysis of why the Mining Resolution in the Goa assembly, to restart mining, officially in the “interests” of the common mining dependent was passed. It was passed out of fear. Fear is the key. Read on to know why

Many of the Goan mine owners live in palatial villas or swank apartments, a majority of them overlooking the sea or the river Zuari. Those who are particularly aware and have very trained eyes, notice ships laden with coal waiting outside the Mormugao port, waiting to offload their consignments on berths for their onward rail and rail journey to factories and steel plants. Every time they see these coal laden ships, their hearts sink.

You wonder what the connection is, between coal laden ships entering the Murmugao harbor, within bobbing distance from their beautifully curated homes, and their fortunes which have dipped like the setting sun with a faint hope of sun rise. The cargo of coal on many of the ships belong to a giant corporate conglomerate, the Jindals, the big daddies of India’s steel with ambitious forays lined up to expand their empire in Goa. Sitting across the harbor in Vasco, one of the prominent mining captains rued, staring into the horizon where the Zuari river and the skyline merge, in the shadow of cargo shipped, lined up like pretty maids in a row to enter the harbor “The Goa pollution Board did not give JSW consent to operate their coal berths because of excess coal handling and production. Less than a year later, in a O turn (when the turnaround is more complete than a U turn), the Pollution Board gave its consent on grounds which are downright funny (See our link to the story:   http://thegoaspotlight.com/766-2/) stating that coal handling was needed for “source apportionment studies’.

So why should all this upset the mining barons of Goa. Simply because they feel  that JSW is getting all hurdles cleared for their coal handling, and it is the same conglomerate (JSW Steel headed by Sajjan Jindal) which is probably in line to be a major player in the Goan iron ore industry, once the eases are up for auctioning. Sajjan Jindal (Chairman and MD JSW Steel) made his indications clear in tweets immediately after the Supreme Court judgment in February 2018, cancelling the renewals of 88 mining leases

He tweeted “Instead of putting pressure on Delhi, it will be much better to respect Hon. #SupremeCourt judgment. @goacm must act on time based auction of the mines”.

He followed this with another tweet “Mine auctions through a transparent process will give additional revenue to the #Goa exchequer. Delaying the act won’t help anyone

The center’s stand on auctioning the mining leases, is firm and there is no ambiguity of thought or ambivalence in decision making, even before the renewals of 88 leases were quashed by the apex court

The then union Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar chairing a meeting of 21 mineral-rich States, in January 2018, decided that the process of auctioning of mining leases that expire in 2020, would begin with immediate effect so that mineral production does not drop.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was present said “We have identified 174 leases whose 50 year lease period expires in 2020. However, there is one important matter before the Supreme Court that is the challenge to the Abolition of Concession Act 1987. It is yet to be decided.”

Former Mine owner and Savordem MLA the late Anil Salgaocar had filed a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Union government’s Abolition Act that converted all concessions into mining leases. This verdict, awaited for long, will interpret whether the 50 year life period for the leases is to be considered from 1961, then all the leases end in 2020 and if it is from Concession period, 1987 then 2037.

The looming spectre of an “outsider” mining giant, like the Jindals talking control and winning auctions, coupled with the realization that the political ground of the ruling party would cave in if mining did not resume, led to the unanimous resolution to demand to make amendments to the very Abolition act that Salgaocar sought to scrap and is pending in the court. What the Goa government, undoubtedly under pressure by Goan mine owners collectively raising the red flag in panic of “outsiders’ taking over Goan mining, did was this. Pass a resolution for the government to take an executive decision (to bypass the pending Supreme Court  verdict)  to legislate to fix the start of the 50 year life period for the leases NOT from 1961, ending on 2020 but from 1987 with the “Concession period” ranging for 50 years from 1987 to 2037.

This, under no circumstances, will mean that mining will resume even in the near future. It is only the first step which officially shows the unanimous intent of all elected representatives and will arguably be a point in establishing that this is the people’s view. Even if God is on the side of  Goa’s mine owners, there is no possibility of mining resuming till the end of 2019, if at all.

But that isn’t the immediate intent. This resolution was passed to buy time. This has given the government at least 45 to 50 days by which time the Chief Minister has met the Prime Minister and/or the Group of ministers to push for an amendment to the abolition of Concessions and Conversions to Leases Act, 1987. This would effectively do this. Earlier the period of the “deemed” lease  after the Act came into being in 1987 was for twenty years i.e  till 2007, post which renewals would have to be sought for twenty more years, as they indeed were.

The Goa government effectively slept on the renewals, under the ground that Rule 24(6) of the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules MCDR rules, a mere application would be considered as “deemed renewal. The renewals were not quite done, till the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment of June 2014 (435/1)  known as the “Goa Mining judgment” (Goa Foundation) declared these leases as null and void, in addition to other illegalities and irregularities of their mining operations. The court was clear MCDR rules could not supercede Section 8 (3) of the MMDR Act where there was no scope for deemed renewals unless they were expressly granted after all conditions were fulfilled.

The mining lease holders once again approached the High Court, following which the government decided to renew 88 leases (though the High Court did not specifically direct the government to renew all 88). These renewals were finally struck down by the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta on Feb 7 2018. The bench stated that“undue haste” in which the state government acted gives the impression that it was “willing to sacrifice the rule of law for the benefit of the mining lease holders”.

The Court left no room for any doubt about the intensity of its virtual disgust at the rocket like pace at which the lease renewals were signed, going as far as to state that the “real intention” of the second renewal was to “satisfy the avariciousness of the mining lease holders”.

The resolution passed in the Goa Assembly, seeks to change the goal posts- officially in public interest- since all MLAs have unanimously backed it- but will actually be in the interest of mine-owners- Here’s how. When the Abolition of concessions and conversions to leases Act of 1987 came into place, the specific mining areas, which were earlier operated as concessions were converted to “leases”. Mining concessions were granted from the time the Portuguese granted them to individual mine owners, “in perpetuity” (for ever) and continued from  1963 onwards (when the MMDR act was extended to Goa after it became a part of India in 1961), they were converted to mining leases in 1987. It is at this stage, were the privilege of perpetuity was removed and each “lease would be valid for twenty years post which a second renewal had to be applied for another 20 years. Which is why Goan mining leases were up for renewal in 2007, and since the state delayed it the process was not completed.

 With the Supreme Court cancelling the renewals of the leases in 2007, Goa was devoid of mining eases and mining activity. Very importantly not a single mining lease now has a valid environmental clearance. With Prime Minister Modi, the all powerful BJP president Amit Shah and their Group of Industrialists (GOI) on one side, the Goa Chief Minister who met the Prime Minister along with all Goan MPS on Tuesday, will have to plough a complicated mine field which will involve changing the fundamental road map that the powerful in Delhi have envisaged. Delhi has decided to follow the auction route of letting the highest bidder exploit the state’s mineral resources. And it is here that the ‘Jindals’, are a symbolic manifestation of the fear that traditional mine owners have, of a total takeover by one or more mining giants, and they have managed to pass on this fear to the government.

 While there may be a case made out for some of the mining affected, let us ask ourselves. How many of the mining affected continue to remain here as opposed to thousands of outsider mining stakeholders like truck drivers, mechanics mining workers who have gone back to Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and UP. Retrenchment and loss of jobs is a collateral albeit unfortunate damage. But who is to blame for this. Not we tax payers but those who governed the mining landscape and those who ruled it.

And embedded in this battle to prevent an outsider mining giant from entering, is the attempt to resurrect mining leases which do not exist and are devoid of Environmental clearances by re-jigging an act to circumvent a Supreme Court order.

The future lies not so much in the courts, but in the minds of two men Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The script, the drama and the time frame will dictate executive and judicial decision making. Remember none of the courts have said that mining in Goa has to stop. The underlying message is that it has to be regulated. Future decisions will be taken on maximizing profits but the big ask still is, for whom? Will Goa get richer, or will it just be a change from a big daddy Goan miner to an even bigger daddy outsider baron. And while this is settled, the “mining dependent”- real or otherwise- be a convenient pawn to do politics and its most comfortable bedfellow, business.

For now Goan mine owners are squirming on hearing ‘Jindal bells, Jindal bells, Jindal all the way’

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Camilo V Fernandes

    August 8, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Dear Sujay,
    You yourself assume and conclude that there are no mining dependent in Goa. You have still to know more about hinterlands in Goa as your journalism till date has been anti industries overall.
    Also that you are now slowing tilting towards encouraging Jindal entry in Goa, it gives a impression that you are on path of paid journalism for Jindal. I am not aware if it’s morally correct when you are doing it at the cost of livelihood of mining dependent people.
    Assuming if at all auction is decided, kindly clarify your understanding on
    1) What happens to the land rights current mining companies enjoy (land right do not come with leases). What about the infrastructure like Jetties that are owned by current mine owners . Will the new lease bidders aquire at current aquisition rates
    2) G2 level survey is required to be done as per MMDR for E-auction . When will this be completed and when will the auction take place?
    3) Will the new bidder be really interested in starting the mines in near future or will they wait for demand boom like pre-2012 ? Or will they only block it for bigger strategy by small investment of amount of less than 0.5% of bidded amount thus choking the people livelihhod in Goa and Goa’s GDP?
    4) How successful are the auctions of leases that has happened till date in other part of country . Eg in Karnataka only one mine out of 7 auctioned have started thus giving a totally opposite result of revenue expected by E-auction.
    5) Will these steel company need Goa low grade iron ore ? These steel companies have hardly taken any ore (that was seized in 2012)from E-auction that was available at below production cost.
    6) Is it possible that these bigger gaints block all Goa leases for their bussiness strategy of killing the independent mining industry and only having a steel lobby with so much influence they have at Center ?

    Again request you not to win on your advocacy for your masters by denying that there are no people dependent on mining . The whole economy of the mining belt villages is dependent on mining and it includes truck owners , employees in mining companies , restaurants, grosaary stalls, tea stalls infact everything . I am sure you are not ignorant about it but have different intentions of pretending not to know about it.
    Appreciate the article for the content covered but intention seems to be paid advocacy .

  2. Sandy

    October 19, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    I like the article

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Fly on the wall

The fundamental problem with trying to restart mining in Goa is its hypocrisy

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Sujay Gupta

 

 

Senior officials wanted to request Supreme Court to allow 2 years to wind down mining operations to prevent mining companies from retrenching staff; mining barns objected; CM Parrikar too didn’t clear this option after agreeing initially

The charge of Goa’s mining brigade to Delhi this week, didn’t quite make up for any heroic script. It was a well orchestrated but increasingly hollow last ditch attempt by mining companies to use their “people power” and some MLA’s from the mining belt to keep their political fortunes hanging by the thread, alive, by organizing shows of strength, to force the government to pave the path for resumption of mining, when Union Mines Ministry has ruled out any corrective action to give life to dead leases.

Therefore the rhetoric of putting pressure on the government and ministries to restart mining was just that- rhetoric. The time for course correction is over. There was a time when the senior echelons of the bureaucracy in Goa had initiated an exercise where it would move the Supreme Court again, stating that while it accepted the verdict cancelling the renewal of 88 leases rendering Goa without a single valid lease, the leases would need two years to engage in effectively winding up operations and disposing ore already excavated. The logic was that if the Apex Court allowed a two year reprieve, mining activity related to transportation and mines administration work could continue which would keep other departments in mining companies at play. This would lead to staff retrenchment being out off for two years.

It is very reliably learnt that Chief Minister Parrikar before he became critically ill, had endorsed this line of action i.e. to move the same Apex Court, not in appeal to overturn their own order but to seek time of two years to allow mining companies to wind up operations.

At this point of time mining barons of Goa had fervently objected to this, since they wanted an all or nothing solution which would effectively extend their leases till 2037. (this is explained later in this column). They clearly did not want a solution where they would have to commit to two years of wages, knowing that they would not be able to continue operations. It is with these clear differences, and rejecting the viewpoint of the mining barons, that the government had drafted a petition in the Supreme Court which was waiting to be filed. Yet it did not ultimately find its way to the Supreme Court. And here’s why. After Mr Parrikar returned from the US after his third sojourn, his formal approval was sought. At that time the Chief Minister went back on his original decision stating that he would speak to the political establishment in Delhi (read Prime Minister Modi and /or senior ministers who have been go to guys for all issues of Goa) and asked his government not to move that petition in the Supreme Court to allow an additional concession of two years as an addendum to their earlier judgment

So in effect, the judicial relief albeit partial but significant, was not sought before Justice Madan Lokur, with the hope that the centre would be convinced to make an amendment. Ultimately Mr Parrikar preferred to attempt a legislative cure when the bureaucracy had advised ( which Mr Parrikar had initially green lighted)  a judicial one as a temporary reprieve.

In retrospect, this option was more in tune with what Goa mining barons wanted. They were against just a two year reprieve which would have forced them to retain staff and then wind up operations. The government or at least some important sections of the bureaucracy believed that if mining companies are allowed to wind up operations in the prescribed manner over two years, the real mining affected who need funds to sustain their lives will get employment for two years

The principle of logic and understanding that was applied in an attempt to curate a legislative remedy to resume mining was this. A law that comes into force to offset  a decision of the court is termed a “validating legislation”. Meaning it justifies or “validates” a legislative decision already taken, which the Court has declared not legal or valid. This process of “retrospective amendment” was sought to be allowed, to allow expired leases to be brought back to life.

As has been explained on several occasions through these columns the Supreme Court has to decide on the petition challenging the Union government’s Abolition Act that converted all concessions into mining leases. This verdict, will interpret whether the 50 year life period for the leases is to be considered from 1961, then all the leases end in 2020 and if it is from Concession period, 1987 then 2037. In any case the 1988 judgment rendered

The Supreme Court judgment in Goa mining in writ petition 435/1 delivered in 2014 directed that those whose applications for second renewal was pending could not continue mining and therefore all mining between 2007 to 2012 was declared “illegal”. This judgment still holds, by the way

Importantly hundreds of leases in Orissa were operating on the same principle of deemed approval for years, since the government was sitting on those applications for years

The government then initiated an ordinance promulgated by the President on January 12, 2015 which specified responses to four scenarios

All leases would now be treated as having been granted for 50 years. (All leases though called concessions were operational since 1961, though converted to leases in 1987. For all practical purposes 1961was the deemed start date for the commencement of leases. The mining lobby is however arguing that the start date should be 1987 when the concessions were converted to leases and therefore get a 50 year run till 2037)

  1. All leases which had a subsisting renewal term, would be operational till the end of the term.
  2. All leases whose renewal applications were pending, after the 50 year completion will be retrospectively deemed extended till 2030 for captive mines and 2020 for non-captive mines. 2020 is the year applicable for Goan mines which are non-captive mines

*(Captive mines: Companies which mine ore for their own use e g steel making) Non Captive: When ore is mined by mining contractors/companies for sale /export to other end users)

With regard to point 2, the court in the beginning of 2018, cancelled the renewals made at a frantic pace right down to the day when the January 2015 ordinance was issued so that the mines whose first renewal ended on November 22, 2007 could continue mining for 20 years. Therefore this cancellation according to the 2018 judgment would be effective from March 2018 as per the judgment.

(Background ExplainerPlease note that leases in Goa converted from Portuguese perpetual concessions in 1987 had a maximum life of a little over 20 years and six months ( roughly taken as 20 years) from the date they were converted to leases from concessions in  1987 which made them valid till November 22 2007 after which a further renewal of 20 years was possible. The government sat on those applications and did not renew them on time, which is why the renewals done in 2014-15 almost seven years later, and after the 2014 judgment declaring the leases non functional were challenged and subsequently struck down)

Now in an attempt to restart mining by the same traditional mining barons,  the government is planning to rewind all these developments, negate what the court has observed and in a huge sweep declare that mining in Goa and get a 50 year run  without the need for any renewals, by taking the year when mining first started as 1987 rather than 1961.

This audacious move is being contemplated by deliberately glossing over inconvenient truths. For instance there are no active leases now and there are no environmental clearances for any leases. What the mining lobby and perhaps backed by the government wants is that all these leases should be resurrected along with their EC clearances which takes close to 36 months to be granted after all due processes. Now which industry in this country gets the privilege of literally going back in time to go from illegal to legal in such a manner? And all of this is sought to be justified on economic ground when all issues to the economically underprivileged in mining can be recovered from dues that mining companies owe the government for various illegalities.

A legislative amendment cannot forced with the sole purpose of bringing back players whose leases have expired when other remedies to ease the financial constitution of mining affected are available. And it is doubtful if there is any scope for a judicial course correction because there is no error apparent in the judgment and review jurisdiction cannot be invoked because a review is an intervention by the court and an intervention pre supposes that there is a point or mater pending. That is not the case here since the Supreme Court has disposed of the matter with regard to lease renewals.

The fundamental problem with the attempt to restart mining in Goa  lies in its hypocrisy  for all the reasons elaborated. This is underlined  by how the state is almost deceitfully, giving wind to absolute false hopes that the center may be inclined or even able to kick-start mining operations in a jiffy without any priority or focus to recovering dues from mining barons and ploughing it back for the relief of the mining affected.

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By changing the date on the ‘birth certificate’, can you make Goa mining leases younger?

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Sujay Gupta

A powerful lobby including the state is pushing for mining restart immediately, which will never happen. The state is meanwhile turning an absolute blind eye towards recovering amounts accrued due to illegal mining under Section 21/5 of the MMDR Act

The earnestness in the attempt to pacify the “mining dependent’ and the powerful mining lobby which often dictates the course of events, by promising a resumption of mining, is devoid of reality. The sooner the mining dependents understand that a forced resumption is simply not possible, a more pragmatic approach to mining resumption can be taken. And pragmatism comes from two aspects.

The restart of mining has to be on the foundation of legality with the principal objective of ensuring zero waste mining, proper utilisation of all minerals and most importantly the zero tolerance to illegal mining. The bottom line is, and this needs to be etched in stone, is that economic reasons for restarting mining cannot be bigger than the interests of the state to protest and preserve its mineral resources, exploit them judiciously for the greatest good of the state, and not necessarily the players who have dominated the mining trade for years and whose operations were called to account and did not pass the test of judicial scrutiny.

What is happening is exactly the opposite. The state instead of following this principle, is using, the sentiment in the mining belt, to restart mining, to push for the extension of eases of the major Goan mining players, by re- fixing the official start date of mining leases, to give then a fifty year period which ends in 2037.

The move is as follows. Amend the Union government’s Abolition Act that converted all concessions into mining leases. This without quite waiting for a Supreme Court verdict, on a petition filed challenging the abolition act. This verdict, awaited for long, will interpret whether the 50 year life period for the leases is to be considered from 1961, then all the leases end in 2020 and if considered from 1987, then the mining leases end in 2037.

It is unfortunate that there is an absolute tirade on social media with the new found twitter army, obviously backed by mining interests which tweets away about mining resumption. The demand is understandable but don’t they know that NO restart is possible in the immediate future and we are looking at a well over a year from now at the very least because there is no single valid lease and there is no Environmental Clearance.

Even in the absolutely unlikely event of the government taking an executive decision to make amendments to the MMDR act to extend the existing leases (almost zero possibility), it is not as if they can open their mines and offices and start mining. Even at the cost of repeating this, environmental licenses cannot be resurrected. The process of getting a fresh EC takes at least a year and does one think that there will be no legal challenges to each EC application and process?

Very strangely, the Goa government- least on paper, and the Goa Assembly- which passed a resolution, feels that an executive action changing the date on the “birth certificate” of the start of Goan mining will circumvent Supreme Court decisions and a road map laid down for restarting mining with a clean slate. Will the change of date- if at all, restart mining on a clean slate? The answer is obvious

The fact that such a move defies the fundamental ruling of the Supreme Court, that the excesses and illegalities of mining must be accounted for, fines and dues accrued due to illegal mining be recovered under the MMDR act, has been conveniently bypassed. While “mining dependents” have been fed doses of hope, it has led to them either living in denial or expecting a miracle, beyond logic or reason.

First, recover the money earned from illegal mining and give back to state and people

The key to understanding the mining dependent, and not the mining giants, feeling of getting choked, lies in the fact that there is no spending power and no money coming in either. This situation can be handled, without having to forcibly restarting mining, without cleaning the slate. The government has to be honest, completely honest, in recovering amounts due from mining companies for illegal mining. The Goa Foundation which has moved the Supreme Court on the issue of recoveries from mining companies stated in a media conference in October, as reported in the local media that “an amount of Rs 3,431.31 crore is due from the mining companies for undertaking illegal activities. The largest amount recovery due is from Vedanta Limited that is Rs 1,647.41 crore. The CAG in its report has pointed out that seven mining leases were involved in undertaking mining activities in excess of the mining plan, the total value of which was around Rs 1,529.64 crore… Another ten leases were involved in mining in excess of environmental clearance limit with a total recovery value of Rs 374.99 crore.

The Goa Foundation (GF) in its presser further stated, as reported in the media “CAG has also pointed out the government failure of short recovery of royalty from nine leases to the tune of Rs 17.98 crores with the total due to short recovery is around Rs 1,508.70 crore.

In 2014, the GF won a Supreme Court judgment that ended up declaring the last 5 years of active mining in Goa (2007 to 2012) as fully illegal. According to the Goa foundation, the petitioner in virtually every case of illegal mining against the Government, (which has been contested by the government and mining companies), the amount recoverable from the illegal miners was estimated by the at Rs. 65,058 crores, which amounts to Rs. 4.5 lakhs per person in Goa today. The Goa Foundation, as per its calculations, states that these renewals led to a further loss of Rs. 79,000 crores. In effect, each resident of Goa lost Rs. 10 lakhs each.

While the amounts can be contested, with mining companies reacting strongly saying that the figures are grossly exaggerated, the fact that all mining between 2007 and 2012 is “illegal” has been clearly underlined in an unambiguous manner, both in the 2014 an the 2018 judgments ( which struck down the renewals of 88 leases)

The Supreme Court also ordered the setting up of a Special Investigating Team (SIT) and a team of chartered accountants to recover the amount from mining companies, which were allowed to extract ore in violation of the law.

The government is guilty of camouflaging this or diverting attention from this aspect. And surprisingly, the “mining dependent” lobby is staying clear of this, which gives rise to strong suspicions that they are merely fronting for the mining lobby.

Apart from the SC directions, the government is mandated by the very same MMDR act to recover amounts illegally earned by recovering and selling mineral without “lawful authority”

Section 21(5) in The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, mandates this. It states:

“Whenever any person raises, without any lawful authority, any mineral from any land, the State Government may recover from such person the mineral so raised, or, where such mineral has already been disposed of, the price thereof, and may also recover from such person, rent, royalty or tax, as the case may be, for the period during which the land was occupied by such person without any lawful authority.] 6[(6) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), an offence under sub-section (1) shall be cognizable.]

It is clear from the Supreme Court judgments that the land was occupied by the mining lease holders unlawfully, since the leases were not renewed and the renewals done post facto have been struck down.

The State of Goa has to be accountable for not recovering either the mineral, which ahs been disposed of, or the price accrued from its sale. There is no argument to justify that the sales of proceeds of ore illegally mined cannot or should not be recovered

What we need to take home from the entire debate on restarting mining

Mineral wealth belongs to us. Our mineral policies are ensuring the depletion of these collectively owned assets with the real owners, the people, receiving only a few crumbs. And while mining companies have made phenomenal amounts of wealth, the state has not received the benefits of this wealth generation for its people.

For example in Goa, over eight years of mining (2002-2012), the public exchequer received less than 5% of the net value (economic rent) of our minerals. The loss was around twice the amount of the state’s revenues over the same period. Per household losses were greater than assets owned by such households. Had this amount been saved instead, the income generated could have eliminated poverty. Instead, everyone lost equally, and a few became rich enough to corrupt our democracy and violate every possible law.

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Vishwajit Rane: The renegade who may well become Goa’s raja

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BY SUJAY GUPTA

Junior Rane has adapted to the Modi- Shah syllabus better than Goa BJP veterans

Vishwajit Rane left the Congress within an hour of taking oath as a Congress MLA in 2017. He came out of the Assembly and simply vanished. Some Congress MLA’s were asked to look for him everywhere. One of them even went to the loo but got no relief. Even before the angry Congress could say p**s off, Junior Rane was in the BJP, then in the cabinet, and is now in the shortlist to become Goa’s next Chief Minister if his career progression takes the same course.

Meanwhile, the AICC general secretary in charge of Goa, is unable to be in charge of his own MLAs who seem to be disappearing from the Congress radar like the Bermuda triangle. The Congress is shrinking. Literally, figuratively and where it really counts, numerically.

Along the way, it has lost another key ingredient. Romance. The Congress was always the much loved, but errant schoolboy who was punished in 2012 and rewarded in 2017, with 17 MLAs.

Then instead of building on this, the Congress has got completely disintegrated while the BJP, which saw Congress rule from the opposition benches, has matured and excelled in the art of defection politics. The romance towards the Congress has been lost because the people of Goa are witnessing its abject weakness in standing up to the ruling party, keeping its flock together and even managing to convince the independents and free floating MLAs to back them. Even in print fiction and films, the romantic hero has inherent strength. The Goa Congress clearly does not.

And it is here that Vishwajit Rane comes in handy. The BJP, as Manohar Parrikar’s health deteriorated, got into a mode which has become its template, pure politics, hard numbers and devoid of any sentiment. And above all, utterly ruthless.

Evidence of this was amply showcased during the visit of BJP central observers Ram Lal and BL Santosh in mid September. MGP’s Sudin Dhavlikar, one of Goa’s senior most politicians with a burning desire to become CM after a quarter of a century in politics met them and literally begged to become Chief Minister. He even said that the MGP with 3 MLAs would merge with the BJP taking the strength of the ruling party to 17 and giving it a better bargaining position with its allies. When he realised that his pitch wasn’t cutting much ice, Dhavlikar, like a tragic hero took his shirt off to show the several stitches around his torso, the result of a major surgery he needed. The melodramatic flourish was to intended to move the hardened observers of the BJP into being sympathetic to a long term ally, who was ailing, and for whom, becoming Chief Minister was one of his final desires of his political life. The last flourish, got him no claps, or sympathy. He left the room with bigger bruises to his ego. Later, one learnt that that the hard-nosed observers had a smirk when they recounted the incident to other party men. It was clear that they were in no mood for sentiments or desires of expectant politicians. Unless of course there was a clear return on investment.

And Vishwajit Rane, provided that return on investment. In a party which increasingly favours politicians who can deliver MLAs and MPs, it doesn’t matter if they are home bred or got through mergers and acquisitions. Junior Rane himself was acquired. But unlike many of the veterans in the BJP including core group members like Rajendra Arlekar, Damu Naik or Lakshmikant Parsekar, Vishwajeet Rane has more BJP central leaders on his speed dial, than these veterans ever had in their long political careers in Goa.

The young man from Satarri, is the quintessential new age BJP politician who will score high marks in a Modi- Amit Shah class. Suave, wily, ruthless, emotion less, he travels light with no ideological baggage and sees politics in terms of cold hard electoral achievement. Look at the way he quietly handled his and his new party’s fortunes, when Parrikar fell ill. He stayed away from the limelight, even as the more alpha male political leaders with ambitions stayed in the limelight. His expected and official line was that the Chief Minister is recovering and everyone stands by him. But it was he who knew that for the BJP to have the juice in the tank to last he full term without the government being toppled, the congress had to be broken. This would ensure that the MGP and the Goa Forward too, saw reason to keep supporting the BJP, and not limit its support only to Manohar Parrikar.

Dayanand Sopte has for long being a Vishwajit Rane loyalist. It was Rane who managed to wrest him from the BJP to the Congress. And now he was wrested him from the Congress into the BJP. Even in Goa’s chequered history of defections, this stands out.

So this is what Rane is that others aren’t. He represents a new breed which is a pure deviant of the old. It also, in a sense, marks the party in Goa moving out of Manohar Parrikar’s shadows into the control of the Centre. And Vishwajit Rane has become an important point man in Goa for the central BJP, irrespective of whether he actually becomes the Chief Minister. He will continue to be a power Centre. The frustrations of the old guard are emerging like seldom before.   Francis D Souza, the long time number two in the government first found himself slipping down the pecking order and then his failing health pushed to the fringes of oblivion till he was finally dropped. Ironically, he was in the same hospital where Manohar Parrikar was treated in the USA when Parrikar decided to drop him from the cabinet, from his own hospital bed in AIIMS Delhi. The other minister dropped Pandurang Madkaikar too has been literally incapacitated, due to a reported stroke, apparently induced by the intake of medication directed at enhancing energy levels. D Souza has lamented that the party has no use for him, Parsekar has said he is keeping his options open.

Leaders like like Rajendra Arlekar, Laxmikant Parsekar , Dayanand Mandrekar and Francis D Souza, who were once absolute heavy-weights actually do not figure in the scheme of things. This was evident when Laxmikant Parsekar reacted with shock and disappointment when he learnt from the media, really, that the Congress MLA who defeated him in Mandrem, Dayanand Sopte had joined the BJP.

These leaders have realised that the current party culture has fundamentally changed. The party has moved on, much like in Delhi. The concern here is that, like in many other parts of the country, the BJPs dominance in Goa will be disproportional to its mandate. The concern also is that regional forces which have built their politics and their movement around having an independent command, have to keep backing the BJP, in order to avoid mid-term polls. Manohar Parrikar’s health condition is hazy but there is no indication that he’s on the road to complete recovery. This is a very unfortunate but a hard honest reality. The political ground reality, entering in a post Parrikar (politically speaking when he may have no option but to demit office) era, is that the regional allies will see more sense in backing the BJP than the Congress.

The BJP interestingly is playing an immediate short term game. It is not looking at 2022 when the next Assembly elections are scheduled. It is looking at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when it needs to win both the Goa seats because every seat will count. And the BJP, unlike the Congress puts a higher premium on controlling states.

While you will still hear words like ‘development’ and ‘jobs’ and infrastructure, the aim is just to keep a government together. And the renegade of the Congress, Vishwajit Rane, is poised to be the raja of this mandate. One isn’t saying that he will be Goa’s next Chief Minister but he is surely on a very very shortlist of those who are equipped to excel in a syllabus which is suited to his brand of politics.

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