I first noticed Manohar Parrikar as a public figure, when a person on social media reported an encounter with him, while catching a flight from Delhi to Goa. The first person account reported that Parrikar got off an official car, outside the T3 Terminal of the Indira Gandhi International Airport and walked into the terminal wheeling his own wheeled suitcase, without the usual accompaniment of flunkeys and yes-men, one is so used to watching, buzzing around netas of every description, in Lutyens’ Delhi. The account went on to report that he stood in a queue at the check-in counter, like other passengers, engaging in chit-chat with people who recognised him and walked up to him to make small talk or take selfies. Later, he did the same at the security counter and occupied an economy seat in the aircraft that was flying him to Goa. This most unusual behaviour by a politician of renown from Goa, caught my attention and I followed him whenever I could, via the news and social media.
Manohar Parrikar was born and brought up in Mapusa, Goa and joined the RSS even while he was a schoolboy, being appointed a mukhya shikshak at a young age. After school, he gained admission to the Indian Institute of Technology at Powai, in Bombay, where he studied towards a B.Tech. in Metallurgy. Returning to Mapusa, he began a business, while engaging closely with the RSS once again in North Goa. He organised the RSS and BJP activity in Goa, during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
Manohar Parrikar was then seconded by the RSS, to the BJP, to fight the elections to the Goa Legislative Assembly in 1994. He won the election on a BJP ticket and served as leader of the opposition for one term. In October 2000, he successfully contested the next election, securing a win for the BJP, to serve as Chief Minister of Goa. In 2001, Parrikar handed over the administration and conduct of 51 Government Primary Schools to Vidya Bharati, the educational wing of the RSS, inviting widespread condemnation from educationists across India. His first tenure as Chief Minister lasted only till February 2002. In October 2002, he returned for a second term as Chief Minister of Goa, but once again his Government was reduced to a minority when four BJP MLAs resigned from the Assembly.
He led the Goa BJP to victory once again in 2012 and once again in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, when both Goa Lok Sabha seats went to the BJP. By his own admission, Parrikar was reluctant to join politics at the Centre until he was summoned to serve as Defence Minister by Narendra Modi, by then the Prime Minister. Before he joined the BJP Government at the Centre on a UP Rajya Sabha seat however, Parrikar passed a Rs 89 lakh junket to the FIFA World Cup, for six BJP Goa MLAs. Organised ostensibly to ‘study’ the World Cup, participation in the junket, was glaringly deficient of any sporting official or sporting coach.
Entirely unschooled in the ways of the Centre, especially in the ethos of the Armed Forces and how to present himself, Parrikar has been guilty of receiving a guard of honour from a tri-service parade, wearing open-toed sandals, a bush shirt hanging over his trousers and one hand in his trouser pocket. Lampooned and trolled across social media for the perceived insult to the Armed Forces, he was protected by statements purporting to show him as a simple man, not given to pomp and show. However, immediately after that parade, Parrikar was seen in formal National Dress, while accepting a guard of honour from the Japanese Army.
Not one to invite controversy, Parrikar still subscribed to the Sangh’s intolerance, when actor Amir Khan reported that his wife had told him she felt unsafe in India, after several events of social violence had been unleashed by elements supported by constituents of the Sangh Parivar. Manohar Parrikar retorted with “if anyone speaks like this, he has to be taught a lesson of his life”, but quickly defended his statement, saying he had not targeted any specific individual.
In an interview to NDTV as Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar had stated, that the entire Rafale cost for 36 MMRCA fighter aircraft, averaged, inclusive of long term maintenance contract, ‘a total of 550 or 600, say rounded off to Rs 700 crore per aircraft. After that statement, the cost of the Rafale shot mysteriously to over Rs 1,500 crore per aircraft, in a Government to Government deal in France while he, the Defence Minister of the Union, was admittedly buying fish in the market.
Unable to take the heat and wheeling-dealing of Lutyens’ Delhi, and possibly unable to come to terms with the happenings around the Rafale deal, Parrikar chose to leave the Centre and return to the Goa Assembly and was sworn in once again as its Chief Minister in March 2017.
Soon after, early in 2018, news of Parrikar having contracted pancreatic cancer hit the news wires. Parrikar travelled to the US for treatment and on his return was admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. While he was battling cancer, news travelled out of Goa that politicking had begun in BJP circles to decide on a successor to the Chief Minister’s seat in Panjim.
Manohar Parrikar breathed his last on March 17, 2019, at the age of 63, ending a career spent in honest pursuit of his aims, without the trace or whisper of corruption being attached to his name. For a politician to achieve such a reputation during a lifetime, is indeed nirvana.
(Rajiv Tyagi is an erstwhile IAF MiG-21 fighter pilot and is a commentator on social media).