BJP’s gift to the Constitution? : A ‘lifetime’ cabinet minister in Goa

Can there be a ‘lifetime cabinet minister’? By notifying it in the Gazette, Goa Government created a dubious precedent just ahead of the election. Should the Election Commission have taken notice?

Goa CM Pramod Sawant
Goa CM Pramod Sawant

Aditya Anand

When the Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant steered a cabinet resolution on January 6 to confer ‘lifetime cabinet minister’ status, people were caught by surprise. Nobody had heard of a ‘lifetime’ minister and that too conferred on a politician from the opposition.

But the Goa CM indicated his seriousness by notifying the decision in the Gazette, a first in Independent India. He justified the bizarre step by claiming that it was to honour Rane for completing 50 years as MLA and for his service to the state as a fivetime CM.

But shouldn’t that have called for a Padma Vibhushan award to be conferred on the veteran politician? After all the ‘Double Engine’ Government at the Centre has just conferred the Padma Vibhushan on Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad. But a ‘lifetime’ cabinet position which comes with the perks of vehicle, staff, security and possibly allowances for someone who neither needed nor sought them?

The announcement came just before the election was notified and the Model Code of Conduct came into force. There never was any doubt that the move was guided by political and electoral considerations. Such a decision just before another assembly election smacked of misuse of office. Should the Election Commission have intervened?

BJP, the ‘party with a difference’, deemed it a masterstroke and instrumental in persuading Rane to drop out of yet another race against his daughter-in-law fielded by the BJP. His ambitious son is of course a powerful minister in the state’s BJP-led government.

Rane comes from a family that fought for the liberation of Goa, is from a well-off family and was educated in the US from where he had a management degree. The political veteran, who loves to play the piano served in the cabinet of Dayanand Bandodkar, the first chief minister of liberated Goa.

There are mixed reactions in Goa with most people indifferent to the step. The powerful Rane family is looked up to in the state and there is considerable goodwill for Rane himself. There are those who however feel that taxpayers’ money should not have been spent so recklessly.

Advocate Cleofato Almeida Countinho says he has not heard of such a lifetime status before, wonders if it can be taken away in future. Goa Congress president Girish Chodankar says if challenged in court, it would be declared unconstitutional. His colleague and Goa state in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao exclaims, “Why use the universally respected Rane ji as a pawn for such cheap political stunts?”

While Rane has not reacted publicly, his son Vishwajeet placed newspaper advertisements thanking the government. Rane, who was initially declared as the Congress candidate from Polirem, has dropped out of electoral politics, adding that he would remain a Congress worker.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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