Remember letting shops open for a limited time soon after India went into lockdown and how the reasons for it backfired because of the crowding? During the corona virus crisis alone, Sawant issued a direction a day virtually and then modified it multiple times. He was willing to risk the life of Goans by being adamant on holding Zilla Parishad polls till the lockdown by Modi forced him to retreat. He has now been criticised for being too hasty to declare Goa as being Covid-19 free.

April 26, 2020
Pushpa Iyengar

Rollback Sawant, might seem like a hip nickname, but extreme cause for worry for Goans when the realization dawns that the Goa CM Pramod Sawant does not think anything through before putting it out in the public domain. Remember the imposition of section 144 just before the carnival that he was forced to rollback? Remember the home delivery idea of groceries was stillborn although he tweeted on March 28 that “our Govt is promoting home delivery mechanism.” His labeling of Goa as being in the green zone (no Covid-19 cases) has been dismissed as being too hasty by his own health minister, Vishwajit Rane, and termed “dangerous” by Goa Forward Party’s Vijai Sardessai.

Sawant’s piecemeal approach to fighting the corona virus is reflected graphically in the sealing of liquor warehouses on April 20, almost a month after the lockdown began, following complaints that booze was being sold on the quiet. While on April 19, 319 cases of liquor worth Rs 9 lakh were seized at the residence of a Mormugao-based packed bottle licensee, 68 stores in Salcette and 12 in Ponda taluka were sealed. It also came to light that booze has always been smuggled – and is continuing to be smuggled despite the so-called sealing – in vans bringing milk and vegetables from Belagavi.

Remember letting shops open for a limited time soon after India went into lockdown and how the reasons for it backfired because of the crowding? During the corona virus crisis alone, Sawant issued a direction a day virtually and then modified it multiple times.

We don’t need no education

Just before the first phase was to end on April 14, orders were given to school teachers and other government employees to get back to work on April 15. Perhaps teachers should thank the PM for extending the lockdown to May 3 for being let off the hook.

Earlier, in mid-March, Sawant had insisted that teachers should report to work although students, after the initial hesitation waltz, were given a holiday from March 15–31. Finally teachers were allowed a holiday and students’ anxiety stilled after the initial flip flops over conducting exams played out till the Maharashtra government announced the school closure. It’s like Sawant took his cue from the Maharashtra government in this case and earlier this week let Modi guide him. In contrast, the Odisha government announced the lockdown extension much before Modi extended it. As an aside it should be mentioned that Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray’s handling of the corona crisis has been lambasted and entreaties for bringing in the army and saving Mumbai have gone out!

Outsourcing dilemnas

Another approach by Sawant and his government is to outsource difficult decisions to evade responsibility. For instance he let local authorities decide on Shigmo processions in March, because as a saffronite he did not want to be seen putting a spoke in the wheel of a Hindu celebration even though as the CM stopping such a congregation was in his job profile. His education authorities too went by this and let school managements decide on exams because they did not want to be the fall guy.

How amateurish his actions were and also completely bereft of sensitivity could be seen on April 15 when the police (he is the home minister) arrested the families of Goan seafarers protesting in front of his Altinho bungalow demanding answers about their men stranded on ship/port somewhere in the world. The optics got worse when they were subsequently detained by the Panaji police for violation of lockdown norms!

On the issue of fish, a staple in most Goan homes, Sawant miserably failed so much so the average citizen ended up crowding around impromptu roadside fish vendors while he allegedly kept jetties closed and stopped trawlers from unloading fish at the jetties. But the crowding at jetties including Malim jetty and Siolim jetty were a dead giveaway that his government makes rules which are not implemented. People who were looking forward to fresh fish were instead sought to be lured with fish stored in cold storages before the lockdown began more than a month ago.

Digging his heels in

But curiously Sawant also is very clearly adamant, despite public outrage, on certain issues. For instance despite all the outcry against a door to door community survey held from April 12-15 that Goa Forward Party leader Vijai Sardesai asked Governor Satya Pal Malik to stop ASAP “ because it will be a doorstep delivery of COVID-19,” the data gathering went ahead. The exercise was half-hearted and no fault of the teachers, BLOs, talathis, etc, forced to do the survey by putting their lives at risk because the data gathering was poorly done. Despite the defiance of lockdown/quarantine restrictions and innumerable cases where relevant data about travel history was concealed, the answers about travel history/underlying diseases were taken at face value and therefore prone to be iffy in the absence of any other mechanism to cross-check the replies.

Sawant also very clearly takes every opportunity to further the Hindutva agenda. For instance, Sawant himself an Ayurveda practioner batted for this alternative medicine to battle Covid-19, saying those quarantined were being administered both allopathy and ayurvedic treatmemt. But leader of opposition, Digambar Kamat, rapped him on the knuckles saying, “Let us not use Goans as Guinea Pigs” while Vijai Sardesai asked whether there was any “scientific basis”.

But Sawant was unfazed just as he was when last December he labeled Goans as being “sussegad” and therefore not growing onions as was being done long ago. While commenting on the skyrocketing price of onion then to Rs 150, he said, “Milk, vegetables, even flowers have to be imported from neighbouring states. Who is responsible for onion prices touching Rs 150 or 170 or 180? Rains? No. We are responsible because we do not plant onions.” He evaded his lack of proactiveness in the hoarding that allowed the price to zoom.

Goa probably owes it to divine blessings rather than to the trial and error approach adopted by Sawant to escape a disease that has brought our universe to its knees.