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If Modi is Batman, Parrikar is his Robin
Saturday June 22, 2013 9:38 PM, Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, IANS

Narendra Modi perhaps overstated when he magnanimously credited Goa as the talisman for his elevation as the BJP's face for the 2014 general elections at a party meeting following the three-day conclave here.

His real talisman, in fact, was sitting right alongside him. Looking relieved after Modi's elevation, but still that ball of nervous energy that Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has come to be known.

Whether he likes to admit it or not, it is Parrikar, who over a period of three years, signalled the beginning of the end of party stalwart L.K. Advani in 2009, by lokening him to rancid pickle, shattering Advani's reverence, has now sealed the 85-year-old's political coffin in June 2013, by throwing the Modi-as-a-prime- ministerial-option open, even before the three-day party meet could begin, setting the cat among Advani's pet pigeons.

Over the last few years, the Modi-Parrikar duo in the BJP partnership has mirrored the contours of the dynamics shared by DC comics' Batman and Robin.

Friends and collaborators, but perhaps not equals.

Sure, Parrikar has his own shortcomings. Goa's small topography (and hence its political significance) and his relatively brief stints in power as compared to Modi.

But Parrikar has his strengths too.

He is undoubtedly the most popular BJP leader as far as Goa's minorities are concerned and one of the more suave cosmopolitan faces nationally. And Parrikar comes with a reputation of a guy who gets things done - if needed, in a hurry.

His maverick ways, his modest appearance, his ability to connect without a sense of showmanship have earned him a sense of endearment which no other leader in Goa has. In fact, while charisma is Modi's main draw, Parrikar's appeal lies in his ability to appear non-charismatic and humane.

But in the recent years, national ambitions have been on the minds of both the chief ministers, who are both known to power their way through cabinet meetings and state organization issues, often creating a risk of killing a second-rung leadership. Both men virtually run one-man governments where the chief minister is both the head, the body and the wagging tail combined together.

While Modi started off on his national agenda with a sadbhavana fast and sadbhvana rally in 2011, Parrikar too has been dropping hints about a move up north.

His first attempt was in 2009, when he was in the top rung of contestants for the BJP president's post. Parrikar's rancid pickle remark about Advani put paid to that attempt, with the former deputy prime minister vetoing his candidature. Parrikar was instead made head of the BJP's Good Governance cell, which advocates and tries to replicate innovations in governance in states ruled by the party. Perhaps the position was best suited for the IIT alumnus and a sharp administrator, certainly not the meaty scrap which he was aiming for.

Parrikar appears to be tasked with the unenvious task of playing Modi's media ambassador, at least for now. Perhaps, the Goa chief minister's comment to a national news channel admitting that the Godhra riots were result of administrative failure was an attempt by Modi to break ice with the English mainstream media and initiate a new dialogue with New Delhi's media pundits.

Both Modi and a large section of the national news establishment have been in a running feud after the 2002 Gujarat riots, when the latter blamed the Gujarat chief minister for the communal carnage following the Godhra train burning.

Ever since his election as chief minister in 2012, Parrikar initially dropped hints that this would be his last stint because he was keen on "growing pineapples" on a farm slope in rural Goa. His sudden passion for the spiny fruit again fuelled speculation about his national ambitions.

But Parrikar soon relented and said that he would have to serve as chief minister for more than five years to set right the rot created by the Congress in state administration.

Destiny, Parrikar says, will decide if has a role on the national scene.

In Modi's elevation, has Parrikar's ride towards this destiny already been set in motion?

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in

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