Panaji, Jan 12 (IANS) Political fissures appear to have developed in the Goa cabinet over the construction of a much-delayed IIT-Goa campus in North Goa’s Valpoi assembly constituency, even as tremors of an old rivalry between Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Health Minister Vishwajit Rane appear to be felt again in Goa’s political scape.
Sawant and Rane, both young political leaders, are elected legislators from the neighbouring constituencies of Sanquelim and Valpoi respectively in North Goa and have crossed political paths in the past, most importantly after the death of former Chief Minister late Manohar Parrikar, when the BJP was on the lookout for Parrikar’s successor in 2019.
Rane, as a former Congress leader with a sphere of influence over a cluster of constituencies including Sanquelim represented by Sawant, has in the past backed the latter’s rivals in electoral politics. Sawant on the other hand has in the recent past plugged attempts by Rane to launch populist recruitment drives in the latter’s Health Ministry.
While the sabre-rattling between the two senior ministers has been relatively subtle ever since Rane joined the BJP in 2019, sustained months-long protests — which turned violent last week — against the IIT-Goa campus appears to have lent a nervous edge to the political competition between the two ruling politicians.
In a video message on Tuesday, Rane blamed the police department headed by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant (who holds the Home Ministry portfolio), for the escalation in violence on Wednesday (Jan 6), which led to over 100 persons being booked, many of whom charged with non-bailable provisions including attempt to murder.
“Since the time the police entered the fray, there is a different atmosphere which has been created,” Rane said in his message, saying he had “never used the police to commit atrocities on people”.
Rane, who was the prime backer behind the proposal to set up the IIT-Goa campus at Melaulim, on Tuesday made a u-turn in view of the popular opposition, saying he would not allow the project “at any cost”.
“I can assure that as long as I am in politics and an MLA, I will not allow a single stone to be placed there. You can forget demarcation of the area,” Rane has said.
Sawant has however insisted on several occasions, that the IIT-Goa campus would be constructed at Melaulim and that the government would not back down from its position, irrespective of protests.
The current stand-off could spell trouble for Rane, especially with the state assembly polls a little more than a year away, and the tide of support which the protesting villagers of Melaulim have received, especially amid allegations of police brutality against women protesters.
Congress spokesperson Trajano D’Mello claims that political one upmanship between Sawant and Rane was taking a toll on the people of Melaulim.
“After first proposing an IIT in Melaulim, Rane is burnt by the fire he was playing with. Now, with his u-turn, the Health Minister wants to prove that he is a person who stands with the people and not the Chief Minister,” D’Mello said.
Ever since an IIT was allotted to Goa by the Central government in 2014, the institute has been functioning from a temporary campus shared by the Goa Engineering College in Farmagudi village in South Goa.
Two sites previously identified by the state government, in Canacona and Sanguem sub districts, for setting up a permanent campus for the IIT were dropped in the face of protests from local residents and after pressure from the Opposition, which had alleged a land scam in shortlisting of sites for the technology institute.
The villagers of Melaulim, mostly members of the Scheduled Tribes, claim that they are being forcefully evicted from their landholdings by the government to make way for the IIT project.