Manohar Parrikar, the original ‘aam aadmi’

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Manohar Parrikar (1955-2019)

In a video clip from an alumni day function at IIT Bombay in 2014, the four-time Goa Chief Minister and former Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar — who passed away on Sunday evening after a prolonged illness — is described as the “original Aam Aadmi”.

Dressed in his trademark half-sleeved shirt and floaters, Mr. Parrikar had an image of an accessible yet go-getter politician.

Helming the party

Mr. Parrikar’s political trajectory runs parallel with the rise of the BJP in Goa. He was born in 1955 in Mapusa, in then Portugese-ruled Goa. It was only after Goa’s liberation in 1962 where the right wing politicians played pivotal role that the RSS took root in the State.

In the 1970s, the teenage Parrikar joined the RSS. After completing a degree in metallurgical engineering from IIT Bombay, he resumed working with the organisation. At just 26, he was Sanghchalak of Mapusa. It was the RSS that pushed Mr. Parrikar to the BJP to counter Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.

Mr. Parrikar’s sangfroid self often hid the astute politician he was. In 1994, for the first time, the BJP sent four legislators to the Goa Assembly. Mr. Parrikar was one of them along with the current Union Minister Shripad Naik. The parallel run of Mr Parrikar and Mr Naik ended here. Mr. Parrikar soon outstripped Mr. Naik, who was the BJP State President from 1990 to 1999, to become the first BJP CM of Goa in 2000. Mr. Naik left State politics to become the first BJP MP from the State in 1999.

“Together with Mr. Parrikar, we built RSS and BJP from ground up. We built its cadre from booth level and would knock on each and every door propagating the BJP’s ideology,” Mr. Naik told .

 

Once he took over the centre stage in the State, Mr. Parrikar never conceded the position to anyone else in the party. Even as the Defence Minister in 2014, he would often spend time in the State, visiting Goa every weekend.

One of his political achievements was to develop the Goa Model of the BJP, positioning the right wing party away from narrow Hindutva bracket to a larger and more inclusive Goan identity. He even managed make the Catholic Church a BJP ally in the State.

Mr. Naik describes Mr. Parrikar as a hardworking and “aggressive” Chief Minister — a description that the Congress leaders who have been usually receiving end of his aggressive politics would agree with.

“He was known for his manipulative politics. He kept files on every politician in the State including those in his own party and the opposition. His own Health Minister Vishwajit Rane was heard in audio tapes claiming that Mr. Parrikar has the critical Rafale files carrying critical proof against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was nothing new to him,” Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar said.

Earlier this year, in January, Congress president Rahul Gandhi met Mr. Parrikar in Goa a day after tweeting about the “audio files” that he claimed gave the Chief Minister powers over Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

His close associate Sushant Nadkarni, who has been advocate general of Goa for over a decade and a personal friend, describes Mr. Parrikar as a workaholic, a hard taskmaster and a person who put the State on the development map of the country. And whatever differences he might have had with BJP leaders were only because he was “straight forward”.

“He sacrificed the post of Defence Minister to return as CM of Goa. Without him, the BJP floundered — from 21 seats they came down to 12 seats. It was on the insistence of the alliance partners that he came back to take the post,” Mr. Nadkarni says.

Mr. Parrikar also has the distinction of helming the 2016 cross border surgical strike. Lt. General D.S. Hooda, who was the chief of the Army’s Northern Command at the time of the strike, describes Mr. Parrikar as sharp and decisive. “I found him very sharp and quick in grasping the problems. He was equally empathetic towards a soldier’s requirements. Often he would request us to let him speak directly to the soldiers, have a cup of tea with them to discuss their needs and requirements,” Mr. Hooda said. The other army officers, however, claim that he rarely got support from the bureaucracy as many of his promises fell through.

Mr. Parrikar also played a critical behind-the-scenes role in the 2013 Goa National Executive meeting of the BJP, which saw the announcement of then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections.

Veteran leader L. K. Advani stayed away from the meeting over the expected announcement. It ended with the announcement of Mr. Modi not just as the PM candidate but as the party’s main election campaigner. Mr. Modi has more than once acknowledged Goa’s role in his success and praised Mr. Parrikar while in Goa.

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