Manohar Parrikar was a man of tremendous presence and a selfless human being who was more a leader than a politician. A man with a broad mindset whose work ethic influenced those who were fortunate enough to have worked with him. He dedicated his whole life to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the best interests of the people.
On power and corruption, there is a famous quote from Aung Sang Suu Kyi: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.”
The late Manohar Parrikar could not be subjected to this conception of power and its correlation with corruption. For him, the posts of a Chief Minister and Defence Minister of the world’s second-most populous nation were not just some entitlement or influence. These were just responsibilities, one of many he performed peerlessly throughout his whole life.
Narrated by the Late Manohar Parrikar
“I am from the village of Parra in Goa, hence we are called Parrikars. My village is famous for its watermelons. When I was a child, the farmers would organise a watermelon-eating contest at the end of the harvest season in May. All the kids would be invited to eat as many watermelons as they wanted. Years later, I went to IIT Mumbai to study engineering. I went back to my village after 6.5 years. I went to the market looking for watermelons. They were all gone. The ones that were there were so small.
I went to see the farmer who hosted the watermelon-eating contest. His son had taken over. He would host the contest, but there was a difference. When the older farmer gave us watermelons to eat, he would ask us to spit out the seeds into a bowl. We were told not to bite into the seeds. He was collecting the seeds for his next crop. We were unpaid child labourers, actually. He kept his best watermelons for the contest, and he got the best seeds which would yield even bigger watermelons the next year. When he took over, his son realised that the larger watermelons would fetch more money in the market, so he sold the larger ones and kept the smaller ones for the contest. The next year, the watermelons were smaller, the year later even small. In watermelons, the generation is one year.
In seven years, Parra’s best watermelons were finished. In humans, generations change after 25 years. It will take us 200 years to figure out what we were doing wrong while educating our children. Unless we employ our best to train the next generation, this is what can happen to us. We must attract the best into the teaching profession.”
Almost two years ago, India and the state of Goa, in particular, lost one of its brightest sons. We realise a person’s greatness and influence long after they pass away. When it came to Manohar Parrikar, we realised it when he left us.
Manohar Parrikar was a man of tremendous presence and a selfless human being who was more a leader than a politician. A man with a broad mindset whose work ethic influenced those who were fortunate enough to have worked with him. He came from humble beginnings, but was destined for greatness. He was the first IIT alumni to have been elected as an MLA in any Indian state. He dedicated his whole life to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the best interests of the people. I met the man once in 2014 when he was the Chief Minister of Goa. His approach and mannerism left a lasting impression. To him, politics was not about power, and rather, it was an absolute responsibility for serving and helping the people. This way of thinking was reflected in his work throughout his career. For him, being the CM of Goa was all about ensuring that the state kept pace with the development and growth parameters of other model states of the time. This was not only achieved, but Goa was moving ahead of other states.
Soon Delhi came calling, with strong persuasion from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and he agreed to become our Union Defence Minister. His elevation to the job from being a CM of a state that sends just 2 MPs to the parliament was a testament to the old saying ‘ hard work, integrity and honesty will take you places in life’. He brought the same vision and approach of leadership in the defence ministry. An example of this is the signing of the Rafale acquisition deal with France, a move that ensured our Air Force kept up and stayed ahead of the curve in the rapidly advancing technological race in defence equipment.
During his tenure, as our country went through testing times on the security front, the response from the armed forces was always firm and measured. It can even be said that India’s approach of ‘iron fist’ dealing with Pakistan and China was earmarked during his tenure as our Defence Minister. The outside world has widely accepted this new approach of dealing firmly and appropriately with our troublesome neighbours. It is also no secret that the top military brass of the armed forces shared a special relationship with the man, a relationship shaped by mutual respect and admiration. After the Goa election results in March 2017, the Goa Forward Party agreed to extend support only if the BJP brought back Manohar Parrikar to the state as Chief Minister. An image of him in very frail physical condition (in his final days) presenting the budget in the Goa Assembly still resonates in my mind. It was the very definition of the man and the motto he lived by; duty above everything.
The stature he possessed had few parallels in Indian politics. Even the opposition political parties had nothing but mutual respect and admiration for him. This is an extremely rare trait in the ‘cut throat’ world of politics. Only a few, like the great Vajpayee, possessed it.
He was the living embodiment of the saying, ‘Simple living, high thinking’. Work was his life, and personal interests were the least of his concerns. His story is something that perhaps won’t be repeated again in Indian politics. His work and way of life was something that made him stand apart from the breed, and it will stand the test of time. He remains an eternal inspiration for many, cutting across party lines. This is a testament to his colossal legacy.
(Writer is former State General Secretary and State Vice President. Presently, he is a senior Spokesperson of BJP Manipur Pradesh)