Manohar Parrikar


A spartan, dedicated politician (1955-2019)

Manohar Parrikar who succumbed to pancreatic  cancer after bravely fighting the disease for over a year, was a value-based politician and a workaholic, who had admirers across all parties. His invaluable contribution to his home state Goa, which he served as Chief Minister (CM) four times, and his handling of the Defence portfolio which he was entrusted with after the NDA came to power in 2014, came in for much praise from all quarters.

Parrikar was born on the 13 December 1955 in Mapusa, Goa, and had his early education in the Loyola High School in Margao. Later, Parikkar graduated in Metallurgy from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai in 1976. Quite early in life he was drawn towards the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( RSS), and served the organisation in various capacities as Mukhya Sikshak (Chief Instructor) and as Sangchalak (Local Director).

Parrikar was later deputed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by the RSS, and he first tasted success winning an assembly seat in Goa in 1994, proceeding to function as the Leader of the Opposition in the legislature from 1994-1999. His maiden stint as Chief Minister of Goa lasted from October 2000 to February 2002, and in 2002 he was re-elected as CM and served till 2005. Parrikar was again sworn in as CM in 2012 and demitted office in 2014 after he was summoned to Delhi to take over the Defence ministry. His final stint as the CM was from 14 March 2017 till he died in harness on 17 March 2019. Ironic as it might seem, Manohar Parrikar never functioned as a CM for a full five year term. He however had the distinction of becoming the first IITian to hold the high office of Chief Minister and Defence Minister. 

Although he was quite reluctant to leave Goa, a state that meant the world to him, he was persuaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the union cabinet in 2014, and was entrusted with the vital portfolio of Defence. As he had not contested the elections to Parliament he was elected to the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, from Uttar Pradesh. However, he could not serve a full five year term as cabinet minister as political exigencies in Goa forced his party to repatriate him back to the state to head a coalition government there. This was largely because the coalition partners, the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party, and three independent MLAs, offered their support to the BJP, setting a condition that Manohar Parrikar should take over the reins as the CM.

During his tenure as the Defence Minister, Parrikar oversaw the surgical strike in 2016. Incorruptible as he was, Parrikar introduced a great deal of transparency in defence deals and purchases, and there was not even a whiff of a scam or a scandal anywhere, and unlike his predecessor A.K. Antony who preferred to deal with Public Sector Undertakings, Parrikar threw the door open for the private sector, exercising due diligence and caution, thereby ensuring that there was no opacity in any of the deals.

Even after he was diagnosed with a highly virulent form of pancreatic cancer in 2018, Parrikar strove hard to fulfill his obligations to the state. Even though he was in and out of hospitals and was even flown for treatment abroad, he discharged his responsibilities, often clearing files from his hospital bed. 

A man of simple tastes and spartan habits, Parrikar was verily the odd man out in Lutyen’s Delhi, with his bush shirts and Kolhapuri chappals. He epitomised the spirit of simple living and high thinking, and his focus on issues that would affect the common man on the street never wavered. Glowing tributes were paid to his memory after his untimely death. Leading the mourners, President Ram Nath Kovind characterised him as an epitome of integrity and dedication in public life, and added that his service to the people of Goa and to India will not be forgotten. PM Modi was no less eloquent and hailed him as an unparalleled leader, a true patriot, and an exceptional administrator.

C.V. Aravind

The writer is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.