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Manohar Parrikar blew hot and cold with media, especially Goan reporters

In ‘An Extraordinary Life’, Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar write about how Parrikar’s image as a transparent leader was undone by his media restrictions.

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Parrikar’s blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with the media grew more incensed after his party came to power with a simple majority in the 2012 state assembly elections for the first time in the state’s history. Confident with the superior legislative arithmetic, Parrikar’s contempt for the media fraternity grew by leaps and bounds. 

At a blood donation camp in February 2014, Parrikar spit fire at the media fraternity slamming local reporters at large, on account of their low financial and intellectual station and indulging in paid news. 

‘What is a reporter’s salary[. . .] How much does a newsreader earn? Maybe 25,000 [rupees].They are mostly graduates. They are not great thinkers[. . .] intellectuals. They write news how they understand it,’ Parrikar said. 

In his bitter diatribe at the public function, Parrikar also made a generic claim about the prevalence of paid news in Goa saying ‘people take money to write’, alleging that a section of the media was aligned with the Opposition and was, therefore, criticizing him and his government without reason. 

While paid news is an unfortunate reality in Goa, as it is elsewhere in the country, to make sweeping suggestions without citing specific instances doesn’t really bode well for a chief minister of a state. And coming from a person who himself encouraged mediapersons to launch coordinated attacks on previous governments, it could well be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Also read: Manohar Parrikar, IIT-B graduate & RSS worker who helped fortify BJP in Goa

Parrikar was later forced to express regret for his comment after a local journalists’ union demanded an apology from him and the Opposition slammed the chief minister for trying to intimidate the media. 

Contrary to his misconstrued image as a crusader for transparency in administration and in his public dealings, restrictions on media movement and access were at their peak under Parrikar’s reign, especially in his latter days. 

It began with a ban on the media from entering the State Secretariat on Wednesdays when the cabinet chaired by Parrikar was scheduled to meet every week. Journalists could only enter the Secretariat building after the cabinet meeting concluded, which was normally in the afternoon. The chief minister also wanted to restrict media access to the ministerial block in the Secretariat to specific days every week. When the media fraternity resisted his plan, he offered an equally stifling alternative of allowing journalists to visit the ministerial block only during designated hours every day. The reason behind restricting media entry, Parrikar explained, was to allow his cabinet ministers to concentrate on their work, as television crews walking around with cameras in the building were distracting them! 

Parrikar had also proposed to ban non-accredited journalists from entering the Secretariat premises, but that proposition too was shot down following aggressive posturing by local journalists. 

Unlike larger states, media access to the chief minister’s official residence in Panaji for press conferences has always been an unfettered affair. After walking through a metal-detector frame, one could pretty much walk right into the conference room, where the CM’s media briefings were held. 

On his return from the national capital 2017, Parrikar changed that. Perhaps it was a heightened sense of security, considering that he had now served in a sensitive Central government ministry or just an added layer of contempt, that stringent security measures were put in place vis-à-vis entering the CM’s official residence. Government advertisements were also more strictly regulated, with the least critical newspapers cornering most of the government ad spend. 

But the media did see a few good turns from the state administration when Parrikar was at the helm of affairs. He was instrumental in setting in place a financial mechanism to facilitate a pension scheme for local journalists. He also allotted office premises to the local media union, the Goa Union of Journalists, at a nominal rent and was liberal in terms of allocating government accommodation for journalists in the state in his early days as CM.

Also read: Turbulence in Manohar Parrikar’s absence follows grand Goan tradition of instability

As chief minister, Parrikar constantly complained about being repeatedly misquoted by mediapersons, be it misrepresenting his comments or incorrectly translating figures of speech from Konkani to English. 

In the run-up to the 2017 state assembly elections, Parrikar even accused the Election Commission of India of committing the same sacrilege: incorrectly translate his election speech from Konkani to English. 

If Parrikar had bones to pick with the interpretation of his comments made in Konkani by the Goan media, during his stint as the defence minister in Delhi, the floodgates opened up. 

While Parrikar was an engaging orator, he often tended to meander off course. Sometimes, it appeared that he not only veered off course but also landed in a different dimension altogether. Consider this, for example. What is the common thread between Lord Ganesh, Andhra chillies, slanted eyes, the atom bomb, Raja Ravi Varma and China? A Parrikar speech! 

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Design and Make in India Electronics’ at the Vivekananda International Foundation auditorium in the national capital in June 2015, he unleashed a volley of ‘Parrikar- isms’ in one go. 

He started with Ganesh idols and statues of Gods in general, which were gifted to him during events and claimed they appeared different than they used to earlier. 

‘I found that nowadays the eyes are becoming smaller and smaller. One day I turned it back and found Made in China[. . .]. Don’t be surprised if it slowly changes. So we have to start “Make in India” right from Diwali gifts to our own Gods. I think it is quite serious,’ he said, as quoted by the India Today website.3 Indians, he said, were used to visualizing features of Indian gods and goddesses based on the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Parrikar made the point to underline the depth and reach of Chinese imports into the Indian market as well as the Indian psyche.

Also read: With Manohar Parrikar indisposed, BJP concerned about ‘go Goa gone’

Then for some reason, in a sublime apocalyptic intervention, he spoke about how atomic bombs can be used for population control. His father, a grocer, apparently used to joke that an atom bomb could slash India’s population woes. 

‘The population then was only 35 crore, and he considered it to be a problem,’ Parrikar was quoted as saying. 

Parrikar ended the speech on a spicy note. A month before the seminar, Parrikar appeared to have dropped a hint that India’s foreign and security policy had turned a new muscular leaf under the Modi-led regime. He wondered aloud as to why ‘using a thorn to extract a thorn’ could not be used as a philosophy to tackle terror. 

‘We have to use terrorists to neutralize terrorists,’ Parrikar said at the Aaj Tak Manthan conclave in the national capital. The comment triggered a diplomatic row, with Parrikar’s counterpart in Pakistan Khawaja Asif describing his comments as the ‘worst kind of declaration by a state functionary of cabinet level, which confirms that India is sponsoring terrorism against its neighbours in the name of preventing terrorist activities’. 

Following up on the controversy and the consternation it caused in Pakistan, Parrikar said: ‘I will not go into what Pakistan feels about that, but mirchi, woh bhi Andhra ki lagi hai.’ 

His motormouth had led to Times of India publishing an article titled ‘In Parrikar, India Has an Atom Bomb That Can Backfire’.

This excerpt from An Extraordinary Life by Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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  1. A bush shirt and chappals man, a good fit for Goa. Remarkable how IDSA has been named after him. Lost a stab at the party president’s job by calling Mr Advani a jar of rancid pickle.

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