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Move over Maharashtra, Maratha politics is Goa’s flavour of the season

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Panaji, Jan 15 (IANS) Maratha, a word synonymous with Maharashtra politics, is increasingly gaining currency in Goa’s political battleground against the backdrop of an ongoing sparring match between two Maratha leaders: Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane.

The edgy, behind-the-scenes tussle between Sawant and Rane over the setting up of an Indian Institute of Technology – Goa campus at Melaulim village in the latter’s assembly constituency of Valpoi, has brought to the fore a power battle between the two young and ambitious Maratha politicians, ahead of the 2022 assembly polls.

While Sawant is keen to retain his status as the party’s face for the upcoming elections, Rane who in 2019, was also in the reckoning for the Chief Minister’s post after then CM Manohar Parrikar’s demise, appears eager for another shot at the top prize.

But the ongoing confrontation between the two ruling BJP leaders, has also put the spotlight on the Maratha caste dynamic in Goa’s politics over recent decades, which has long been identified and dominated at the top by politicians from Brahmin ranks, across the political spectrum.

On Thursday, Vijai Sardesai, a former Deputy Chief Minister and president of the Goa Forward party, an opposition outfit, tried to prick Rane’s Maratha pride, by prodding him to prove his valour in his confrontation with Sawant over the IIT issue.

“If (the relocation) does not happen, he (Rane) should quit the cabinet and stand with the people. Only in that case will the people support him and have a future. Or else he will drown, it will be political suicide. It is better that he shows guts. He should prove he is a real Maratha,” Sardesai taunted Rane.

Rane, who had backed the IIT-Goa campus project in his constituency earlier, in a letter to Sawant this week unequivocally expressed his opposition to it, after protests against the campus turned violent. On Friday, Sawant announced that the IIT-Goa project proposed in Rane’s constituency had been scrapped.

According to former chairperson of the Goa Public Service Commission Prakash Dessai, a “Maratha does not require or will to pay heed to advice from Vijai Sardesai”.

“Marathas have been at the helm of affairs in Goa for several years. They are experienced as a clan at political leadership. We account for nearly 20 per cent of the state’s population,” says Dessai, a Maratha himself.

In its sixty years as a union territory and then a state in the Indian Union, Goa has witnessed three regimes led by Maratha Chief Ministers Pratapsingh Rane, whose reign spanned a decade and a half and Laxmikant Parsekar, who took over chief ministership after then CM late Manohar Parrikar was elevated to the union cabinet in 2014. Parsekar’s regime lasted for around three years. The third being Pramod Sawant.

According to Dessai, as political allies, the state’s Brahmins, especially the influential Gaud Saraswat Brahmin sub sect and Marathas have both trusted and tangoed together, often at the cost of keeping other caste groupings at bay.

“When Parrikar, a Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) was heading for Delhi, he handpicked Laxmikant Parsekar, a Maratha as his replacement,” Dessai told IANS. Interestingly, it was Pratapsingh Rane, Vishwajit’s father, who blessed the credentials of Digambar Kamat, a GSB, as CM in 2007, after Rane Sr’s own chances were being scuppered by a lobby within the Congress party.

Congressman Pratapsingh and his son BJP’s Vishwajit, are descendants of the Rane clan, who for eons have been regarded as the vanguard of Goa’s Marathas and have ruled the region of Sattari in North Goa, with an iron fist, both in colonial Portugal and in the post Liberation era.

According to Pratima Kamat, a professor of hisory at the Goa University, from 1755 to 1822, the Rane clan clashed with the Portuguese as many as 14 times.

“The Rane revolts constitute a colourful chapter in the history of Goa. From 1755 to 1822, the Ranes clashed with the Portuguese on 14 occasions,” Kamat writes in her paper ‘Political life of 19th century Goa as reflected in its folksongs’.

Vishwajit Rane’s latest run-in with his fellow Maratha Sawant over the IIT campus issue, may well have had both leaders agreeing to a nervous truce. But with assembly polls scheduled in about a year away, the rivalry between the two Marathas could liven up the run up to the electoral season.




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