Parrikar, the Technocrat-Politician With Impeccable IntegrityTheQuintOpinion
The nation mourned the loss of a great son, on Sunday, 17 March, as Manohar Parrikar bid a final goodbye to the world.
Four-time Chief Minister of Goa, he was India’s Defence Minister from 2014 to 2017. He also had the distinction of having been re-elected from his multi-religious constituency repeatedly since 1994.
He was known as the common man’s chief minister, because of his utterly simple lifestyle and easy accessibility. Many a folk were taken aback at seeing him stand in line for a ticket, riding a scooter to work as CM, or as Minister, seated in the economy section of the aircraft.
There’s a story of the airport security guard in Mumbai stopping a man in chappals, who got off a rickshaw. He was late for his flight, his ticket was with the protocol officer inside, and he was also Chief Minister of Goa. Yeah right, said the guard, only to be embarrassed later.
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Manohar’s Time as “Mess” Coordinator
Manohar was born in Mapusa and did his schooling in Marathi medium. He graduated from IIT-Bombay with a BTech in Metallurgical Engineering in 1978. His five-year stint at IIT-B coincided with the Emergency and underground activism. He was elected unopposed as the “mess” coordinator in his hostel for four consecutive years.
This was a tough job, which involved keeping tight budget control, preventing pilferage, maintaining hygiene, catering to the whims and palates of demanding hostel-mates, and keeping mess workers motivated. He also rallied the students to volunteer in the kitchen when the workers went on strike.
But the same tough Parrikar fought for workers’ rights and donated from personal funds for their welfare. Many years later, he recalled that his years as Mess Secretary were the best training for a successful political career.
He was a proud member of the RSS to which he remained in lifelong debt for instilling in him discipline and nationalism. But he didn’t let dogma come in the way of being cordial, even to his adversaries.
Known for His Sharp Intellect and Thinking
Even though in politics from the early 1990s and an elected representative, he never neglected his modest manufacturing business, or his family. But the early demise of his wife Medha in 2000 left a vacuum, after which he completely devoted himself to public service.
He was largely responsible for taking the vote share of BJP from a mere 0.4 percent in 1991 to 35 percent 20 years later. He was active in LK Advani’s Rath Yatra, and also was one of the karsevaks who went to Ayodhya. As a first-time MLA in 1994, he was able to dominate the opposition benches despite MGP being the main opposition party. Incidentally Parrikar’s own initials too were MGP.
Close friends and colleagues remember him for his hard work and punishing schedule, often working 16 hours a day. He preferred to write in long hand even as Minister, and was also an avid reader.
One of his favourite book recommendations to friends was “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene.
With his sharp intellect and game theoretic, almost Chanakya-niti-like thinking, he could be a formidable political adversary. This was particularly effective in the Humpty Dumpty world of unstable Goa politics. One of his out-of-the box initiatives while holding the Finance portfolio, was to sharply reduce the state excise on aviation fuel. Instead of losing money, the state’s revenue jumped three-fold as airlines scrambled to refuel in Goa airport at night.
Parrikar was outspoken, to point of bordering on politically incorrect. His fearlessness came from his impeccable integrity. Even his worst enemies could not accuse him of financial corruption.
Of course, he had political opponents, especially among the strong environmentalist lobby of Goa. Many opponents called him headstrong, autocratic and inflexible. But even when he disagreed, he never became disagreeable. Not much of a public speaker or orator, he wasn’t cut in the mould of the demagogue. But with his earthy style, he could regale the audience with anecdotes and life lessons.
Goa, His First Love
His first love was always Goa, and he dedicated his life to its development, balancing the needs of environment sustainability with modern industry. Education and infrastructure were his focus areas.
He brought the International Film Festival to Goa, and visitors were amazed to see him outside the grounds coordinating with the traffic and security personnel.
If Goa is a much-sought-after tourist destination, and a model of syncretic harmonious living among different communities, Parrikar deserves a significant part of the credit.
He also left his mark as Defence Minister, tirelessly working for the interest of the armed forces personnel as also for modernization. He fought for OROP and pension benefits.
In his nearly three-decade life in politics, compromises and controversies were inevitable. For instance, the Goa mining scam and subsequent investigation involves a 2014 cabinet decision of his. During Rafale negotiations –for which he won a hard bargain – his own file notings reveal that despite being the Defence Minister, he deferred to the Prime Minister’s Office to take over and conclude the deal.
Ultimately, he will be remembered as an affable, plain speaking, extraordinarily intelligent and hardworking, people’s Chief Minister. He is a rare breed of technocrat, politician and an efficient administrator, who was steadfast in his integrity and simplicity despite the challenges of murky politics.
(The author Ajit Ranade is an economist This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)