Panjim Face-Off: 3-Way Fight in the Offing as a ‘Sidelined’ Utpal Raises Stakes

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

8 min read
Hindi Female

Goa's capital city of Panjim is seeing a tight three-way contest in the 2022 Assembly polls between sitting legislator Atanasio Babush Monserrate, now in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former bureaucrat Elvis Gomes of the Congress, and Independent Utpal Parrikar.

Rebelling against the BJP for denying him the party ticket to a seat his father, late Manohar Parrikar, had held for over 25 years, US-educated businessman Utpal has amped up the stakes in this contest.

Sidelined by his party, Utpal is seeking to establish a political foothold, claim his father's legacy, while inadvertently galvanising an upheaval in the BJP that has inducted winnable former Congress candidates and ignored party loyalists and cadre.


Monserrate Vs Utpal Parrikar

Making a pitch to clean up the Goa BJP and bring it back on track to its high moral ground, Utpal's supporters have launched a broadside against the party's official candidate.

Monserrate, who had led nine other Congress MLAs into the BJP after he won the Panjim seat in a 2019 byelection (after sitting MLA and chief minister Parrikar died in office) on a Congress ticket, has several charges against him, one of them for allegedly attacking a police station while he was leading a protest against an arrest in February 2008.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant defended Monserrate on national television, saying the latter was a friend and the charges were yet to be proven.

"I've been facing this sort of thing since 2002. But I know my character and the people and my voters know me," Monserrate told The Quint.

Though Utpal has made no individual mark on the constituency that the BJP has held from 1994 to 2019, he seems poised to gain sympathy votes from Parrikar loyalists and a section of party loyalists.

Panjim residents, whom The Quint spoke to, said Utpal was not personally known to voters, having stayed in the background during his father's political innings.

In the past three years, he had not really made any outreach to voters either, though he had bid for a party ticket in the 2019 byelection as well.

The BJP's Goa election incharge and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had also pointed to Utpal's low political profile and inexperience, in comparison to Monserrate, who has worked in the constituency, been in control of the Panjim Municipal Corporation for the past 15 years, and was an MLA in the neighbouring Taleigao and Santa Cruz segments from 2002.


Manohar Parrikar's Ties With Monserrate

While Utpal pits himself against Monserrate, the irony is that Manohar Parrikar's and Monserrate's past collaborations have made Panjim modern.

Parrikar often relied on Monserrate's support for the Panjim seat, where winning margins have usually been a slender 1,000-1,500 odd votes. He was made the Town and Country Planning minister – a critical ministry dealing with land use and zoning changes – in 2002 in a Parrikar-led Cabinet.

The latter also appointed him as chairman of the Greater Panjim Planning and Development Authority (GPPDA) in 2017, in return for his support during Parrikar's 2017 byelection, after Parrikar resigned from his Defence Minister position and returned to govern the state. Once again in 2019, when he defected from the Congress to the BJP, Monserrate was given the GPPDA post by the current BJP-Sawant government.

From earlier voting patterns, BJP supporters account for 6,500 votes in Panjim, the Congress for 5,000 voters, while Monserrate has a personal loyalty vote of 4,000 in the city, which stayed with whichever party he contested from.

Monserrate's political footprint has been mercurial – he has switched multiple parties, and was expelled from the Congress for six years in 2015 for openly supporting a BJP candidate and Parrikar protege in a 2014 Panjim byelection.

His politics, linked to land and the booming realty economy (that has outstripped mining and tourism), is equally controversial. Media reports have linked him to attempted topplings and defections in the past two decades.

Yet, he has built a solid personal voter base by being accessible in times of crisis, helping people with jobs, and sponsoring youth, community festivals, and sporting events.


Though his might be a more prominent face, legislators connected to land and realty, dominate the political landscape across parties.

The GPPDA, which Monserrate headed, controls development in villages and suburban areas even beyond the capital city, in the upscale, premium real estate clusters of sea-facing Miramar, Caranzalem, Oxel, Bambolim, and the ocean view hilltop plateaus of Dona Paula, Kadamba, and beyond.

Here, gated complexes, luxury hotels, and villas have displaced fishing villages and locals, despite a spirited pushback from citizens in the mid-2000s.

In 2006, environmental activists under the Goa Bachao Andolan (GBA) led protests to oppose a Regional Plan 2011 that proposed to ease conversion of large areas of farm, orchard, and forest lands into settlement areas for out-of-state realtors.

Monserrate, heading the Town and Country Planning Department, in the then Congress government, resigned after then chief minister Pratapsingh Rane scrapped the controversial plan in 2007, following widespread protests.

With their control over urban construction and development licensing, zoning changes, setbacks, and floor area ratios in cities, Planning and Development Authorities in the state have become contentious entities, with politicians vying to head them – often toppling governments and changing parties to do so.


The 'Wild Card'

On the surface, Panjim's electoral arithmetic favours Monserrate, even accounting for a split in the BJP votes. Politically, he holds several aces. Ten months ago, a panel backed by him swept elections to the Panjim Municipal Corporation (CCP) again. His son Rohit, now appointed Mayor, was addressing citizen's civic issues to drum up support, before the election. Several of the city's corporators are backing him.

Every election has wild cards, and while Utpal in the contest is one, so are the high decibel media airing of the criminal charges against him, the fact that Monserrate has never contested on a BJP ticket before, and the silent groundswell of support building up for the Congress. Monserrate has either been a Congress candidate or contested from regional parties in the past.

There's a lot riding on this election and on the Panjim contest, both for Monserrate and the BJP, who risked considerable public censure in denying the Panjim ticket to Utpal Parrikar.

Facing high anti-incumbency from a 10-year stay in power, the BJP is counting on Monserrate to take up its tally by winning all five seats in the Tiswadi taluka, where he holds considerable sway.

His wife Jennifer has been fielded from his earlier seat of Taleigao, while two of his aides are contesting from the neighbouring Santa Cruz and St Andre seats.

A complete contrast in image, Congress candidate Elvis Gomes, a former Goa Civil Service bureaucrat, has the advantage of a solid public service career behind him, having been known as one of Manohar Parrikar's blue-eyed boys in the bureaucracy.

He was the president of the Goa Football Association, Director of Tourism, Urban Development, Captain of Ports, Sports Authority of Goa, IG Prisons, and Deputy Collector. His advantage in the Panjim contest is his inner knowledge of the city's problems – having served twice as commissioner of the Corporation of the City of Panjim (CCP) and commissioned restorations in his tenure, including of the city's central garden.

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

Congress candidate Elvis Gomes.

(Photo: Pamela D'Mello)

Diving into politics, Gomes was earlier the state convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party from 2016 to 2020, and contested the 2017 Assembly elections from a South Goa segment. He was also the AAP's candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from South Goa.

Ruling for 15 of the past 22 years, the BJP has rebooted Panjim city, since setting up infrastructure for the International Film Festival of India, which is now permanently located here.

Citizens, however, complain that while the state secretariat, high court, and several schools have been moved out to seperate suburban complexes – the city's event-based and casino tourism that has moved in – has come at the cost of greater discomfort to its original residents.

"Two decades ago, Panjim was mainly an administrative and residential city. Every tiled house had a well and a breadfruit orchard. Some years ago, residents were told to close their wells, promising us 24x7 piped water, but now we get water supply for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Unlike multistorey building apartments that have sumps, we don't. This is the condition of the original residents of the city," rues lawyer and resident Rui Ferreira.

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

Casino advertising on the riverfront.

(Photo: Pamela D'Mello)

What Are the Key Issues?

Monsoonal flooding in this riverbank city is an unsolved issue, as is the hellish parking problem, he adds. Smart city funds allotted to Panjim, have been widely criticised for spending on pointless cosmetics for a city, some of whose residents still lack the basics.

Though token heritage institutional and government buildings were restored at great cost, heralding a commercial success for the city since the 2000s, developers and corporators steadily demolish other colonial-era houses and have rapidly replaced the human-scale city with commercial high-rises that have been permitted sans parking facilities.

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

Old residences sandwiched between high-rises.

(Photo: Pamela D'Mello)


Another onslaught, residents say, come from the garish neon lit casinos and Bollywood blasting cruise tours that have been granted free reign over the city's repurposed waterfront and jetties, where taxis, touts and tourists jostle, turning Panjim into Casino-jim post-sunset.

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

Water tankers' shortage in areas of Panjim.

(Photo: Pamela D'Mello)

"I've moved out of the city. Who can live in a city that stays awake till 1 am every night? When will children sleep and when will they go to school," asks one resident.

Utpal Parrikar is seeking to establish a political foothold and claim his father Manohar Parrikar's legacy.

Casinos clog the Mandovi.

(Photo: Pamela D'Mello)

"How did it make sense for the long-serving Panjim legislator to move out schools from the city to a complex that is a 13-km-long highway drive away, while allowing a mall, casinos, and hotels inside the city?" he adds.

Monserrate, who in 2019 promised to have the casinos out of the river within 100 days of being elected, now argues that city hotels would lose business if he did so. He, however, claims that traffic and parking problems need redressal and would solve citizen grievances on that score.

The Congress is making a smarter pitch for the city in 2022, promising to prioritise heritage structure preservations, including the colonial-era wonder causeway, Ponte de Linhares, which links Panjim to the neighbouring suburb of Ribandar, that the BJP government had indicated was to be pensioned off.

Gomes, who as a bureaucrat oversaw infrastructure development for the 2014 Lusofonia Games, also makes a promise to upgrade parks, implement a much-needed workable mobility plan, and to reopen and develop the Campal Football Ground, an emotive demand with locals here.

"Flooding, reliable water supply, health facilities, sports, and unemployment are critical areas that can't be lost sight of, even if you are building a smart city," he says.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Congress   Goa Assembly Elections 

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