People are cogs in the great machinery of society – silently grinding their life and responsibilities. Once in a while though, there comes one person who adds that little bit extra to everything they touch. Rarely, one emerges who changes things more than a bit. Manohar Parrikar, former Defense Minister and erstwhile CM of Goa, was one such rare person. He left his stamp on everything he did; raised the bar on all facets of his life; and gave us commoners something to aspire for – something more than just ourselves.
Much has been written about the simplicity, dedication, hard work and astuteness of Manohar Parrikar – and much more will be written. Born in a nondescript (by Indian standards) small town in Goa, he went on to attend college at one of India’s most prestigious technical institutions (IIT Bombay). In 1981 (3 years after graduation) he established Goa Hydraulics – a manufacturing company for hydraulic and pneumatic equipment. For the next 13 years, he served as the RSS Sanghchalak for his area. In 1994, he won an MLA seat on a BJP ticket and became the first IITian to don a legislative mantle. His political career for 20 years (till 2014) has been a tug of war: forming governments, losing support from coalition partners, fighting elections, winning (in 2012) and winning again (2017).
Manohar Parrikar was a thorough leader and statesman. He put his state’s interest ahead of his own. His dedication to public life earned him the admiration of friends and the respect of his political opponents. Most importantly perhaps, his simplicity earned him the love of the people of Goa. His presence was a crucial factor in breaking anti-incumbency in 2017 elections. Goans had a CM they were rightly proud of – a Goan who was simple and more importantly, incorruptible.
For non-Goans however, it was his stint as the Defense Minister (2014-2017) that showcased his mettle as an administrator. He ran the ministry in a transparent and efficient manner, proving that transparency and efficiency in decision-making can and must go hand-in-hand.
Amongst other things, he should be credited with breathing life back into and reinvigorating the Tejas project. He ensured that the aircraft would see acceptance within the Indian defence milieu amidst stiff competition from global players. His tenure as Defense Minister was also instrumental in the realization of MMRCA (Rafale) deal, as well as pushing the Arjun MBT project. He was also instrumental in resolving, albeit partially, the One Rank One Pension issue. Last but not least, of course, there was the Surgical Strike after Uri attack.
In the view of his author though – his biggest contribution as Defense Minister, is what was often left unnoticed and unsaid. In 2014, Indian armed forces were completely denuded of ammunition. The CAG had noted that between 2008 and 2013, only 10% of the required volumes of ammo were procured and stored. And much of what was purchased was imported, leaving our security and war plans at the mercy of other nations. Our submarines were beached because we couldn’t agree on how to buy batteries for them. Manohar Parrikar as DefMin laid out a strategic roadmap to procure much of the ammunition from within and developing Indian industries to handle our needs internally.
He cut the red tape and brought reprieve to a resource-starved force. His push to develop Indian defence manufacturing sector is expected to bear fruits in the next year. Even incomplete, our defence preparedness is far ahead of what it was about five years ago and much of the credit must go to Manohar Parrikar for laying the groundwork for this transformation. While the future will decide how things will pan out, things would never be this promising without his push from within the ministry. It is not hyperbole to state that Manohar Parrikar was the Defense Minister India needed after his predecessor had compromised us by his acts of omission and inaction.
Alas, life has a habit of throwing curve balls – and it threw a tough challenge at Manohar Parrikar. He was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer: the most fatal type of cancer known. And instead of being cowed down by this burden, Parrikar decided to fight it to the last breath. And fight it, he did. He went about his job as CM of the State; he went about presenting budgets and serving his constituency – with scant regard for his own rest. He gave his 100% and then some more to his work, as a way of showing the world that he shall not be cowed. It is in this last battle that he probably gave his admirers the most important lesson of all: “स्वधर्मेनिधनंश्रेय:” – to die for (performing) one’s own dharma is “Shreyas” (Gita 3:35).
To paraphrase immortal lines of W. E. Henley:
It mattered not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
He was the master of his fate
He was the captain of his soul.
As sad as the passing away is; it is more important to remember him for the work he did. He would want to be remembered for pulling our national security out of the deep morass it was mired in. He would want to be remembered as the people’s politician – someone who was intelligent, outspoken, approachable and dedicated to the last breath.
As for us, the best tribute to Manohar Parrikar is to ensure his dreams for this nation come to fruition. Aum Shanti, Parrikar ji. You served us well. We will carry the mantle forward.