The wife, not the progeny, seems to be the heir, and it’s never been more apparent as during ticket distribution season.
The country is reeling between dynasts, where Congress heir Rahul Gandhi is the pin-up boy, and bombasts, where prime minister Narendra Modi leads the pack. But in tiny Goa, however, which is poised for a mega political campaign in the run-up to the state poll in a fortnight, it’s Biwi No. 1 that swings the political sweepstakes, and includes both the Congress and the BJP.
Being a co-partner in election contests; getting nominated for tickets; fighting the polls and winning too; challenging both husband and party and making a stormy exit, not from the marriage but from the party; and striking out on their own: the First Wives Club in Goa is swinging the political sweepstakes.
Because right in the midst of the Parrikar family drama, where the late Manohar Parrikar’s son Utpal finally declared he would fight the election as an independent, because the party high command refused him a ticket saying he cannot demand it for merely being Parrikar’s son, there has been a volatile walk-out by the wife of a prominent BJP leader.
Barely a few hours before the news of the young and hurt Parrikar declaring at a press conference late evening yesterday that he will fight only in the state capital of Panaji came the resignation of Savitri Kavlekar from the BJP. Savitri is the wife of incumbent deputy chief minister Chandrakant Kavlekar and she resigned from all party posts (she was also vice-president of the state Mahila Morcha).
It was an incensed Savitri who staged a walkout from the party after she was denied a BJP ticket from Sanguem constituency, even as her husband Chandrakant has been given the ticket to contest from Quepem constituency yet again. So confident was Savitri about her nomination that she and her supporters had already started their campaign in Sanguem weeks ago, even holding several public rallies as a show of strength to her party bosses. But to their shock, the list of nominees declared by the BJP in Delhi a day ago saw the Sanguem ticket going to Subhash Desai.
It did not take minutes before Savitri held a press conference to attack the BJP and announce her resignation.
“The BJP has done grave injustice to me and my supporters who have been working tirelessly to campaign with me in the last few months,” she hit out.
But what has really enraged her is that the party has given other prominent wives tickets. “The BJP has denied me a ticket despite assurances, and has double standards as it has allotted tickets to other husband-wife duos in Taleigao and Poreim. We are pained,” she said, even as she declared her intention to fight as an independent candidate.
It must be said that in Goa, declaring oneself as an independent candidate is a shrill invitation for rival parties to poach disgruntled and rejected candidate hopefuls. In the 2017 poll, Savitri had fought on a Congress ticket and lost to independent Prasad Gaonkar. The latter also defeated Subhash Desai who was the BJP candidate then too. Gaonkar later joined the BJP but left midway. Today, he’s the Congress candidate from Sanguem. Savitri’s only hope of getting a party ticket, if not an independent, is from the AAP, Trinamool Congress, MGP, and others.
So, it’s not just the beta-beti dynasty scourge that plagues politics all over. In sunny Goa, it’s the many wives of politicians – from ministers and legislators to even sarpanches – who hold sway with equal aplomb.
Savitri was specifically referring to two couples, the Monserrates and the Ranes. Jennifer Monserrate and her husband Atanasio “Babush” Monserrate got BJP tickets from Taleigao and Panaji, respectively. Divya Rane and Vishwajit Rane got the Poreim and Valpoi sets. Apart from the Lobos in the Congress, even incumbent chief minister Pramod Sawant’s wife has been in the hotspot and in the limelight, standing side-by-side with her politician husband.
Is it real women empowerment and equality that drives these politician wives? Or is it politics becoming a family firm in the state, where the heir is not the progeny but the wife?
Let’s look at politician wives to see how it plays out.
First, it has been seen that wives always fight in adjoining constituencies to their husbands’ seats of power. This not only gives the former an advantage but also extends their husbands’ power of influence and political clout beyond their own respective constituencies. The idea is that you can get two constituencies for the price of one couple. Savitri wanted Sanguem, which is right next to Quepem, her husband’s constituency. The Monserrates have both Panaji and adjoining Taleigao. The Ranes have Valpoi and adjoining Poreim.
Similarly, the Congress’s Michael and Delilah Lobo, both of whom resigned from the BJP a few weeks ago and joined the Congress, will be fighting together from the neighbouring constituencies of Calangute and Siolim. Lobo’s close aide, Kedar Naik, will contest from neighbouring Saligao.
In the case of the Monserrates, both husband and wife seem to be partners in crime if their criminal records are anything to go by. Jennifer, who is also revenue minister and minister of IT, labour and employment in the present government, has one serious non-bailable criminal case against her. Atanasio has two serious non-bailable cases against him, including rape of a minor girl.
In fact, the trial in the Monserrates’ infamous 2008 Panjim police station attack has commenced today, even as the BJP declared their candidature 24 hours ago. Both the Monserrates had won on the Congress ticket until they joined the BJP in July 2019. The Monserrates were implicated, along with the mayor of Panjim, of attacking the police station in 2008 after one of their supporters was allegedly beaten there. In the ensuing battle, several people were injured.
Jennifer was not a legislator then, though she had first contested in 2005 but lost. However, she had actively participated in local body elections, being elected to the panchayat since 2005 and has been a sarpanch since 2009 in her husband’s former constituency of Taleigao. It was not surprising when she glided into the legislator’s chair after winning her first election in 2012 in the safe seat of Taleigao, vacated generously by her husband, who also fought and won the neighbouring Santa Cruz seat in the same election.
On the other hand, Atanasio is a three-term MLA who started off in 2002 on a United Goans Democratic Party ticket. He then joined the Congress in 2002 and became a minister in two successive governments. He lost in 2017 to the BJP, even as his wife won on a Congress ticket, but in the by-poll after Manohar Parrikar’s death, Atanasio won again, only for the couple to defect to the BJP two years later.
Though Jennifer has babbled on about women’s issues, she has steadfastly stood by her husband when he was implicated on the serious charges of unlawful restraint and rape of a minor in 2016. He was even expelled by the Congress for six years, only to be brought back later. The trial is awaited, even as Atanasio has consistently denied the charges in court and is out on bail as his lawyers argued that the charges against him lack credibility.
Is the Rane coupledom a fixed story? Only time will tell. But Divya Rane – wife of the BJP’s health minister Vishwajit Rane – is pitted against her father-in-law, octogenarian Congress leader Pratapsingh Rane, in Poreim. Though Rane Senior was assiduously being wooed by the BJP, even given a lifetime cabinet status (a first in the state),he has followed his party diktat of contesting the seat for the Congress.
The shell-shocked Divya, a political novice who was seen at social soirees rather than the grassroots, will have an awkward time taking on a family member, that too her legendary father-in-law, in a pitched poll campaign. But despite the family squabble, it could not have been a safer family constituency for Divya to make her political debut, even as the Ranes will continue to sway power in their family fiefdom of the two constituencies.
For Delilah Lobo too, it was her husband Micheal’s insistence that his wife be given a ticket, and it was the BJP’s refusal that pushed Lobo to join the Congress with his wife and aides in tow. Michael resigned as a BJP minister for science, ports, and rural development and it was almost his declaration of love to his wife during ticket negotiations when he said Delilah and he would only contest from the same party.
Michael was publicly supportive of Delilah’s candidature when he endorsed her commitment to public life. He declared that she was not only a former BJP Mahila Morcha vice-president but, more importantly, she has been active in politics since 2007; even elected as a sarpanch for 10 years in Parra, between Calangute and Siolim. As sarpanch, Delilah drove out Nigerians who crowded the village of Parra after putting the heat on them, apart from supporting her husband in disallowing the Playboy Club in his neighboring beach strip of Candolim, saying they will not promote “vulgar tourism.”
Delilah earned her spurs in Parra as sarpanch, from distributing free harvesters to farmers, to garbage management, to free education scholarships to wards. Michael, a two-time MLA, is confident of a win for both Delilah and his aide Naik, apart from three other neighbouring constituencies.
Even chief minister Pramod Sawant’s wife Sulakshana is not to be left behind. Sulakshana Sawant may no longer be the head of the state BJP Mahila Morcha today; she finished her term as Morcha chief in 2020, when Sheetal Naik was appointed president. But she still holds the position of the Morcha’s state in-charge, whatever that means. In real terms, Sulakshana may not be holding bike rallies for women on the birth anniversary of Jhansi ki Rani but she is always around to make the announcement of new appointees of the Morcha, even as recently as a few months back, as a pliant Naik takes second position.
It must be said that Sulakshana was appointed Morcha chief in March 2016, way before her husband became CM. At that time, the wives of two legislators got prominent positions: Sulakshana, who was then only Sankhli MLA and party spokesperson; and the then tourism minister Dilip Parulekar’s wife Medha was made party secretary.
Whether to extend her own influence or to challenge the party’s credo of one candidate from one family, Sulakshana as Morcha chief has been in the forefront to demand 33 percent reservation for women in the party. In the run-up to the 2017 state election, she had said the women’s reservation bill must be passed in the Parliament before the Goa poll. It might not have happened in the Parliament, but the state BJP gave 33 percent reservation in party state executive and block committees.
Sulakshana’s rationale was clear. Women constitute 52 percent of the state’s population and she has always pushed her Morcha members to put in that extra effort – visiting every household, listening to and helping solve their problems – so as to get the women vote on the BJP’s side.
And so, the First Wives Club holds sway both in politics and the public. Some have been successful; for others, it’s their first time.
But are they keeping their political fiefdoms warm until their sons and daughters come of age? The Monserrates’ son Rohit, 32, has already been elected mayor of Panjim uncontested last year. However, he only emerged in public life almost 15 years after a criminal case of rape of a German minor was slapped on him in 2008. He was acquitted three years later as the mother and girl refused to testify though the reasons are unknown.
The Lobos’ son, Daniel, is in his 20s and has launched the Parra Youth Wing to resolve issues affecting the youth, as he has declared.
On Goa’s voting date, also Valentine’s Day, it’s not a gift-wrapped Tiffany's box but the ballot box that will keep the wives smiling.
This story is part of the NL Sena project which our readers contributed to. It was made possible by Abel Sajaykumar, Devaki Khanna, Subhrajit Chakraborty, Somok Gupta Roy, Sathya, Shubhankar Mondal, Sourav Agrawal, Karthik, Sudarshana Mukhopadhyay, Uma Rajagopalan, HS Kahlon, Shreya Sethuraman, Vinod Gubbala, Anirban Bhattacharjee, Rahul Gupta, Rejith Rajan, Abhishek Thakur, Rathindranath Das, Farzana Hasan, Animesh Narayan, A J, Nidhi Manchanda, Rahul Bhardwaj, Kirti Mishra, Sachin Tomar, Raghav Nayak, Rupa Banerjee, Akash Mishra, Sachin Chaudhary, Udayan Anand, Karan Mujoo, Gaurab S Dutta, Jayanta Basu, Abhijnan Jha, Ashutosh Mittal, Sahit Koganti, Ankur, Sindhu Kasukurthy, Manas, Akshay Sharma, Mangesh Sharma, Vivek Maan, Sandeep Kumar, Rupa Mukundan, P Anand, Nilkanth Kumar, Noor Mohammed, Shashi Ghosh, Vijesh Chandera, Rahul Kohli, Janhavi G, Dr Prakhar Kumar, Ashutosh Singh, Saikat Goswami, Sesha Sai T V, Srikant Shukla, Abhishek Thakur, Nagarjuna Reddy, Jijo George, Abhijit, Rahul Dixit, Praveen Surendra, Madhav Kaushish, Varsha Chidambaram, Pankaj, Mandeep Kaur Samra, Dibyendu Tapadar, Hitesh Vekariya, Akshit Kumar, Devvart Poddar, Amit Yadav, Harshit Raj, Lakshmi Srinivasan, Atinderpal Singh, Jaya Mitra, Raj Parab, Ashraf Jamal, Asif Khan, Manish Kumar Yadav, Saumya Parashar, Naveen Kumar Prabhakar, Lezo, Sanjay Dey, Ahmad Zaman, Mohsin Jabir, Sabina, Suresh Uppalapati, Bhaskar Dasgupta, Pradyut Kumar, Sai Sindhuja, Swapnil Dey, Sooraj, Aparajit Varkey, Brendon Joseph D’souza, Zainab Jabri, Tanay Arora, Jyoti Singh, M Mitra, Aashray Agur, Imran, Dr. Anand Kulkarni, Sagar Kumar, Sandeep Banik, Mohd Salman, Sakshi, Navanshu Wadhwani, Arvind Bhanumurthy, Dhiren Maheshwari, Sanjeev Menon, Anjali Dandekar, Farina Ali Kurabarwala, Abeera Dubey, Ramesh Jha, Namrata, Pranav Kumar, Amar Nath, Anchal, Sahiba Lal, Jugraj Singh, Nagesh Hebbar, Ashutosh Mhapne, Sai Krishna, Deepam Gupta, Anju Chauhan, Siddhartha Jain, Avanish Dureha, Varun Singhal, Akshay, Sainath Jadhav, Shreyas Singh, Ranjeet Samad, Vini Nair, Vatsal Mishra, Aditya Chaudhary, Jasween, Pradeep, Nilesh Vairagade, Manohar Raj, Tanya Dhir, Shaleen Kumar Sharma, Prashant Kalvapalle, Ashutosh Jha, Aaron D'Souza, Shakti Verma, Sanyukta, Pant, Ashwini, Firdaus Qureshi, Soham Joshi, Ankita Bosco, Arjun Kaluri, Rohit Sharma, Betty Rachel Mathew, Sushanta Tudu, Pardeep Kumar Punia, Dileep Kumar Yadav, Neha Khan, Omkar, Vandana Bhalla, Surendra Kumar, Sanjay Chacko, Abdullah, Aayush Garg, Mukarram Sultan, Abhishek Bhatia, Tajuddin Khan, Vishwas Deshpande, Mohammed Ashraf, Jayati Sood, Aditya Garg, Nitin Joshi, Partha Patashani, Anton Vinny, Sagar Rout, Vivek Chandak, Deep Chudasama, Khushboo Matwani, Virender Bagga, and other NL Sena members.
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