Political turmoil with 11 Chief Ministers in 10 years, deep-rooted corruption, inadequate infrastructure, electricity issues, water shortage and so on. All these issues and more plagued undoubtedly the most beautiful state in India in the nineties. With tourism and mining being the only mainstay, Goa was fast losing direction on social and economic front. And then, just like the phrase, ‘He came, he saw, he conquered’. Seems easy but rarely do we find somebody doing this, especially in the political sphere. What Manohar Parrikar did to the political scene in Goa and India is exactly the same.
From being the son of a general store owner in the sleepy town of Mapusa to becoming an IITian to being India’s Defence Minister is a story that evokes curiosity, respect and inspiration. It will not be an exaggeration to call Parrikar Goa’s finest Chief Minister, tallest political leader and most popular citizen. From being a mascot of good governance to one of India’s best Defence Ministers, he wore many hats but never ceased to be the beloved Bhai of Goans.
I was 10 when Parrikar first became an MLA from Goa’s capital city of Panaji. Despite being from Mapusa, considering political compulsions of an alliance, he contested from Panaji and won. As they say, the rest is history.
From Panaji’s water woes to power issues to roads to cleanliness, he went about solving each issue one by one or simultaneously. By the time he was into a few months of being a legislator, he had already made a mark for his studious arguments, prolific speeches and vociferous support to causes in Goa’s interest.
Within a short span of 6 years since his entry to the state legislature, BJP had its first government in the coastal state with Parrikar as Chief Minister. This was a turning point in Goa’s volatile, faction-ridden and defection prone political culture, despite Parrikar government itself being the result of mass defections. He provided a new boost to the aspirations of Goans allowing them to finally look at a governance model that was getting recognized across the country. He also provided the much needed political stability to the state.
More often than not, Manohar Parrikar would barge into Government offices and take action against defaulting public servants. He would read each and every letter he received and address public grievances. He was the real-life Nayak supervising infrastructure work well past midnight, many times driving his own car, eating out at small eateries, getting rid of the concept of cavalcade and so on. In the era when children of ministers used police guards, Goans were pleasantly surprised to find a CM sans any protocol.
I recall a moment in 2002 when a small get together of young RSS Swayamsevaks was organised at my house. When Parrikarji arrived in RSS uniform, most of us were blown away by his simplicity. Sipping his favourite black tea without sugar, he went onto address us with humour, wit, facts as well as his experiences as Head of the state government. The moment interaction ended, he moved towards the exit only to find it was raining heavily. Before an umbrella could be arranged, the CM had started running towards a private Maruti 800 waiting for him with his friend in the driver seat and zoomed away. No official vehicle, no red beacon, no security & no cavalcade. This may not seem like a big incident but it left an indelible mark on me and I found an idol in public life. Rather, most of us did!
Despite alliance compulsions and political upheavals, he remained in the saddle till 2005 until the then Governor S C Jamir, Congress’s political missionary sent to Goa, dismissed the government keeping the assembly in suspended animation allowing Congress to use brute force, money and central agencies for horse trading. If Justice delayed is Justice denied, then the court’s dragging of foot in this clear case of the murder of democracy, denied justice to Parrikar as well as Goans. A union minister dictated Governor’s actions sitting at the Raj Bhawan. Today, when Congress cries hoax about the murder of democracy, you do not have to go as far as an emergency but can merely cite what Jamir did to Goa Government.
While his term from 2000-2005 got him widespread popularity across the country, there were several factors that are often ignored. Parrikar lost his wife barely 6 months before he became the Chief Minister. With 2 young sons to take care of, youngest one being only 13, it was a tough ask to alternate his time between family & the state. But at no point, he allowed his family responsibilities to come in way of his duties as the administrative head of the state. He would often barge into offices early in the morning to see if staff was reporting on time, he would conduct public hours to meet as many people as he could to hear their grievances, all this, while taking his constituency Panaji as well as Goa to an all-time high in terms of development. While many criticized him for being arrogant, in reality, it was simply his ability to call spade a spade. Unlike most politicians Goa witnessed, there were no fake promises.
Another aspect people often ignored was Parrikar’s accessibility which was unprecedented even for CMs of much shorter duration. With his simple dressing sense, shirt untucked and rolled sleeves, you would see him arrive at functions without any fanfare and just get merged into the crowd. Even before anyone noticed that CM was with them, he was generally on the road heading for another political engagement. While he remained down to earth and accessible, he wasn’t willing to compromise with state’s interest even for most compelling reasons. That eventually led to his downfall in 2005, which saw the most naked and blatant abuse of power wrested with the Governor and the central Govt that was on the prowl for an opportunity to bring Parrikar down, as he had become Congress’s biggest nightmare.
In January 2005, on repeated complaints of corruption & harassment against one of his ministers, Babush Monseratte, who handled the crucial Town & Country Planning portfolio, Parrikar decided to strip him of the portfolio. This despite knowing that it could have severe political repercussions, including risking his government. And exactly the same happened.
Babush resigned as Minister and MLA and decided to contest elections. With him, he made 3 more MLAs to resign and 2 others to withdraw support bringing Goa back into the political crisis, which was often an annual affair during the Congress rule. With Parrikar’s most trusted aide and virtual number two in the BJP, Digambar Kamat resigning and joining the Congress, the situation worsened. For Parrikar, it was a political as well as personal setback. Goa saw frantic efforts by BJP to stay in power, even by creating a constitutional crisis where both speaker and deputy speaker resigned. While BJP still managed to win the floor test, Congress did what they have done very well so far – used and abused the office of Governor. Without waiting for the court verdict, or getting into the merits of the floor test, Governor S C Jamir dismissed the government and proposed that assembly is kept in suspended animation till by-polls, instead of dissolution that BJP had demanded in the worst case scenario.
After BJP lost 2005 by-polls 4-1, and the assembly elections in 2007, Goa wasted 7 precious years and possibly what was Parrikar at his peak. Back to back electoral failures had taken a toll on Parrikar’s approach though he went on meticulously with his role as Leader of Opposition. His antics in the assembly exposing the Congress and it’s government renewed people’s love for him. Yet again, he remained approachable and did not miss a single chance to be with the people or to interact with them.
Until about January 2012, many believed that Goa will vote for a hung assembly. However, Parrikar did something unprecedented through his ‘Parivartan Yatra’, spread over 15 days, crisscrossing nearly 35 out of 40 constituencies, spending each night at the house of a karyakarta. A state already plagued by corruption, nepotism and failing law & order had nobody but Parrikar to look as their saviour. As elections drew closer, even his most bitter enemies in the media called him the miracle man who had the required Midas touch to heal Goa.
2012 assembly elections and Parrikar was back with a bang, with BJP getting to the magic number of 21 on its own and Congress decimated to 9 seats. While 7 years of Congress rule had messed state’s finances, UPA Govt in Delhi ensured Goa got no support. They would rather create hurdles at every opportunity available. Having said this, Parrikar himself was a pale replica of his first tenure from 2000-2005.
7 years of being out of power made him change his approach, become more accommodative, and that, did disappoint a lot of people. Even today, Goans complain of Parrikar not living up to his expectations but then, wasn’t it because of Goans alone that he spent 7 years out of power and was forced to be more accommodative? If one aspect of Parrikar’s leadership did not change and that was his push for infrastructure projects and social sector schemes. Like in his first stint, Parrikar went on an infrastructure building spree and also, announced several schemes helping the downtrodden and the needy in the state. When he has elevated as the Defence Minister of India, the entire state cried in unison. Yes, it was a proud moment for a state that had not even seen a Union Cabinet minister, that one of them was becoming India’s next Raksha Mantri, but as a Goan, it was a sad moment. The dreams, aspirations, expectations and so, many remained unfulfilled.
Even though 2012 onwards saw Parrikar’s rise, it was possibly the most difficult time for him too. In Goa, he succeeded the mess left by Digambar Kamat for 5 years while in Delhi, he stepped into the mess created by the art of not taking a decision of Saint Anthony. Personally, I would rate Parrikar’s stint as RM as the best stint in his career. Given his position allowed him to focus on one sector, he meticulously went through issues of the Defence Ministry one by one. Whether it is about pending procurement cases, or new acquisitions, or issues of ex-servicemen or main operational issues, he carefully scrutinized each file slowly earning himself a lot of admiration from political circles as well the bureaucrats and the services.
His approach was filled with analysis, intellect, and most importantly, empathy towards those protecting our nation. Even today, men in uniform call him the best Defence Minister India had so far and rue the fact that he did not stay long enough. Industry captains are usually compelled to speak highly about those power but even today, Parrikar’s contribution is remembered. One of the CMD of a large Indian conglomerate said Parrikar had done more work for the industry than all the RMs put together since the Defence sector was opened to the private sector in the early 2000s. His role in personally drafting the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016, placing long pending orders on private industry, making test ranges available and so on gave a new boost to Prime Minister Modi’s Make in India initiative.
Whether as CM or RM, Parrikar remained firmly rooted in his karyakartas. I recall a call he received on his personal mobile. A longtime associate of his had taken a train few stations ahead of what was mentioned in his ticket. To his bad luck, he found a TTE who suggested that he should pay a fine. As a last resort, he called Parrikar even though he was the Defence Minister of the country asking him to either speak to the TTE or call Suresh Prabhu who was the then Railway Minister. Parrikar calmly told him to pay the fine and give him the receipt, which he will reimburse.
Such is the connect he has with people and such are the expectations people of Goa keep from their leaders. Another incident worth mentioning is shortly after he became CM in 2012, he met a boy during one of his public hours. The boy told him that Parrikar, during his campaign speech, had promised a laptop to the students but he was not eligible due to some of the conditions. Parrikar immediately remembered where he had met the boy and called a friend who runs computer store to give the boy a laptop, for which, a cheque will be sent from his personal company. The memory of the smile on boy’s face is something that will remain in minds of each one who was there.
Coming back to Goa, what transpired post-Parrikar’s elevation was partly a glimpse of his own failure to groom the second rung leadership. Yes, Parrikar’s void was too big to fill, but government led by Laxmikant Parsekar was disappointing on many counts. Even for trivial matters, Parrikar’s intervention started becoming a necessity, who despite his tough and gruelling schedule as RM, was forced to pay attention to the state. With administration taking a huge hit, even relationship with allies started worsening and this once again showed BJP Goa’s over-reliance on Parrikar. At a time when he was gaining stature nationally as well as internationally, Parrikar’s absence from Goa cost BJP a drubbing in the 2017 assembly polls, forcing him to return to state politics. He did not think twice before giving up his position as RM to come back and serve his state as it’s Chief Minister.
Today, as Parrikar battles illness, the scene is rather sad. Apart from him, the party has no acceptable leader to run the ship, at least until Parrikar recovers fully. Congress & his critics may love to write him off but in true Parrikar style, he will return to run the state. Party leadership in Delhi, however, needs to now focus on creating the much needed second rung leadership. With most people in the core committee lacking electoral experience and solely owe their existence to Parrikar, Amit Shah should possibly look at letting younger people get active within the party.
Though appointment of Pramod Sawant as Speaker and recent induction of Nilesh Cabral as Minister is a positive sign, BJP Goa certainly needs a lot more. Today, they can no longer rely on the charisma of Parrikar alone. While he takes care of Governance, the party needs a captain to steer the ship to its erstwhile glory. The core committee, as it stands today, does not enjoy the support of the party cadres beyond a certain coterie. With allies like Goa Forward looking at expansion right into BJP strongholds, the party needs to reinvigorate its cadres. If at all there is a time for radical change, BJP Goa’s time is NOW.