Erudite and brilliant politicians like Manohar Parrikar are born once in a century. They are the saving grace for their class as public hopes and aspirations hinge on them
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar died on March 17 after battling pancreatic cancer for more than two years. A pall of gloom descended over the country as soon as President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted about his sad demise. The entire nation is mourning his untimely death at a comparatively young age of 63, leading to an outpouring of condolences from people from all walks of life and even his political opponents. For he represented what politics needs most today, an honest sense of mission.
In an era when all and sundry join politics after failing in many ventures, Parrikar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and a brilliant IITian, was pushed into politics in 1988 when he was asked to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ever since he joined politics, he followed his conviction of becoming a true servant of the people by practising what he believed. He was a staunch nationalist and a true patriot with a secular mind, groomed in pure Indian culture of respecting the feelings of all religions, caste and creed without any trace of bias and hatred against anyone.
Parrikar’s simplicity, humble nature, honesty, straightforwardness and good ethics of governance, including his no-nonsense attitude in administering what he believed, is necessary for the larger good of people and was writ large on his smiling face all the time. People will never forget the Chief Minister and the workaholic presenting the budget in the Goa Assembly on January 30 this year with a nasal tube on, a cap and assisted by his staff. During his political sojourn, he exuded hope and unbound energy in his personal gaiety which made him immensely popular all over the country.
He outgrew his tiny State of Goa and became a colossus in Indian politics. He served Goa with full dedication and made it a very well-administered State by setting personal examples like riding pillion on scooters, standing in queue at the airports, shops and collecting his own baggage from the airport belt and elsewhere. These were some of the high marks of his belief in disdainfully trashing the thriving VIP culture in our country. He fought his pancreatic cancer, which was detected in an advanced stage, with courage and fortitude not seen in ordinary mortals, and till his last breath was fully engaged in running the state administration.
Parrikar was the saving grace of Indian polity in which many politicians have scant regard for probity and genuine welfare of people and the country. His death has created a big void which will be difficult to fill. Erudite and brilliant politicians like Manohar Parrikar with exceptional charisma are born once in a century. They are the saving grace for their class as people’s hopes and aspirations hinge on them rather than on lesser mortals in their fraternity.
This writer had a personal encounter with his simplicity and ethics in 2003 when Parrikar was the Chief Minister of Goa and the then Environment and Forest Minister, TR Baalu, took the Ministry’s statutory body, Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), to Panaji for deciding the mining cases of Goa. This was a rare occasion when this committee held its meeting outside Delhi.
This writer was the Member-Secretary of FAC by virtue of working as Inspector-General of Forests in the Ministry. The then Director-General of Forests and other members were having dinner in the hotel garden in Panaji when we noticed one informally dressed man coming towards us along with one of his colleagues and before we could guess who he was, he walked straight to us and shook hands with all of us even as he said as the Chief Minister of Goa, he had come to welcome us to his State. He was none other than Manohar Parrikar, accompanied by his Forest Minister Vinay Tendulkar.
We could never imagine that the Chief Minister of a State would walk in his Kolhapuri slippers with his untucked half-sleeve shirt and of course, without the customary security of a VIP. He never talked about any proposal of the State and was with us for half an hour, having just a glass of water.
Parrikar will be remembered for a long time for his foresight in turning the destiny of India’s politics and that of the BJP’s by proposing the name of Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the BJP’s September 2013 National Executive meeting in Goa. It has been a history since then.
As soon as the BJP won the 2014 election, he was uprooted from Goa and made the country’s Defence Minister, an anointment which spoke how the Modi-led team held him in high regard for his integrity and simplicity. But all the while, his heart was in Goa where he eventually went back ultimately in 2017 as the Chief Minister.
As Defence Minister, he was responsible for bringing professionalism, removing decision paralysis in procurement and transparency in the overall working of the crucial Defence Ministry. He will be remembered by ex-soldiers among others for allowing one rank one pension for the defence personnel.
The Rafale procurement was one that he very deftly handled, including killing the note engineered by his then Defence Secretary. The deal was sealed ultimately. However, he will be most remembered for providing astute leadership during the 2016 surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the Line of Control against Pakistan-sponsored terror camps. Parrikar had personally monitored the surgical strikes. His conviction as the country’s Defence Minister can be best explained in his own words. He once said, “I gave instructions to the armed forces personnel to shoot at any one possessing an AK-47 machine gun as it is obvious that they do not have any good intentions.” It is this conviction that made Prime Minister Modi’s task easy to conduct the surgical strike. His death is an irreparable loss for the country and more so for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party. His successor to the Goa Chief Minister’s chair, Pramod Sawant, will have very large boots to fill.
Apart from other achievements, this four-time Goa Chief Minister brought the State’s Christian lobby in the BJP’s fold, which is not a mean achievement. It was also his charismatic personality that was largely responsible for arresting the infamous Aayaram-Gayaram political culture in Goa for a while.
The entire country is in shock and tears on the departure of this prodigious son of India. Rest in peace Manohar Parrikar.
(The writer is a retired civil servant)