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Friday, March 07, 2008

The survivor

Goa's 15th chief minister, Digambar Kamat, is known for following a strict fitness regime. He plays a daily game or two of badminton and also swims regularly � perhaps the skills he has acquired in these two sports also help him remain afloat in the treacherous politics of Goa.
Like any shuttler worth his salt, who judges to perfection where the next smash or drop is coming from and is there to return it even before it drops on his side of court, Kamat is a master of judging changing political scenarios and changes his gameplan accordingly. Similarly he also uses his aquatic skills to perfection and has survived at least two attempts to pull down his government in his eight-month stint as the chief minister.
The 53-year-old Kamat, who has interests in realty and mining, comes from a family with RSS affiliations and belongs to the small but influential community of Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, better known as GSBs. In fact, he was the Congress�s first GSB chief minister in Goa. Kamat later participated in a movement to collect bricks for the Ram temple during the heydays of the Ayodhya movement. In 1993, he entered Goa�s 40-member assembly on a BJP ticket.
Kamat stayed with the BJP till 2005 and even became a trusted lieutenant of the high-profile BJP chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar. He was made the deputy chief ministership as a reward for his loyalty.
But when the Congress decided to topple Parrikar�s government after lodging Gandhi loyalist S C Jamir at Panaji�s Raj Bhavan, Kamat, sensing it was the Congress that now had the momentum, switched loyalties. In the bargain, he was allowed to keep his deputy chief ministership and power portfolio.
Kamat, who likes to maintain a low profile, must have realised he would never become chief minister if he stayed in the BJP so long as Parrikar, who enjoyed the trust and blessings of both RSS bosses and the BJP�s top brass, was on the scene. Such brazen turncoat politics might have raised eyebrows in other states but not in the revolving-door politics of a small state like Goa.
But there is another side to the politician in Kamat: he is a good administrator. He has had reasonable success in ministries such as town and country planning, mining and tourism. His administrative skills helped make his stint in the power ministry a success story. When most state electricity boards are incurring huge losses, Kamat managed to ensure a turnaround in Goa.
When the tug of war was on between the then outgoing chief minister, Pratap Singh Rane, and Goa Congress president Ravi Naik over the chief ministership, Kamat watched from the sidelines, confident that he would emerge as the compromise candidate. He remained patient and didn�t try to woo any MLAs to his side. Finally, when Congress observers Margaret Alva and Sushil Kumar Shinde were unable to resolve the deadlock, they zeroed in on Kamat. His name was duly announced as leader of the legislative party.
During the initial days of his government, Kamat was pro-special economic zones (SEZs), but the rising anti-SEZ sentiment and vociferous opposition from the Church made him see it as a good opportunity to deliver the knock-out punch to his opponents. Chief among these was Dayanand Narvekar, the heavyweight Congressman who was trying to destabalise the government and was also seen as pro-SEZ.
Kamat�s decision to scrap the SEZs has not only helped him to cut down his opponents in the party to size and dilute the BJP�s anti-SEZ plank. It has also won over the Church which was weary of his RSS past.

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