New Delhi: The Prime Minister’s Office called Manohar Parrikar three times to join the Union cabinet in 2014, before he reluctantly acquiesced in November that year. His days as defence minister were eventful, but his personal life was “tiring” and “lonely” — he hated Delhi for its pollution and “darbari” culture, lack of friends and shortage of Goan fish.
Parrikar did not share a good relationship with then-finance minister Arun Jaitley, who he alleged was “delaying” the resolution of the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ issue. And when India conducted surgical strikes across the Line of Control in 2016, Parrikar didn’t sleep the whole night, and as soon as he got confirmation of the operation’s success, called up his son Utpal and said “Pakistanak udaylo (Pakistan has been knocked off)”.
These revelations will soon become public when a biography of Parrikar hits the stands. Titled ‘An Extraordinary Life’, the biography has been authored by veteran journalists Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, and published by Penguin Random House. It features the voices of Parrikar’s relatives, friends, foes and civil servants to tell the story of the life of the four-time Goa chief minister, who passed away in March 2019 due to pancreatic cancer.
“It is an honest political biography of Parrikar, where we have interacted with a lot of people to corroborate facts. Parrikar’s honest approach led him to such heights. He may have been PM, but his heart was in Goa, not Delhi,” Patil told ThePrint.
The Rafale ‘file’
In January 2019, Congress’ communications head Randeep Surjewala had proclaimed that his party was in possession of an audio conversation between an unnamed journalist and Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane, in which the latter purportedly said documents related to the purchase of Rafale fighters from France were in Parrikar’s bedroom. This had caused furore in Parliament.
However, the authors of the book say they cross-checked this claim with several Goa ministers who attended a cabinet meeting with Parrikar, then CM. The book states many cabinet colleagues asked the ailing Parrikar why he was quiet on the issue despite being involved in the negotiations.
Parrikar told his ministers that since other BJP leaders including Arun Jaitley were putting forth the government’s point of view, and no one had asked him to clarify he did not feel the need to make a public comment, before adding “all the information about Rafale is here”.
The book quotes a cabinet colleague as saying Parrikar was implying that the information was “in his mind”, not in physical form, and that Rane, perhaps in his eagerness to spin a story for his favourite journalist, interpreted it as the file being present in Parrikar’s bedroom.
The only loose end the book doesn’t tie up is the journalist’s — he is apparently a former editor of a local newspaper who was close to several Congress leaders and relocated to Hong Kong.
The book reveals that India had begun preparations to conduct a surgical strike across the Line of Control in June 2015, “for any eventuality”, before finally going ahead with it on 29 September 2016, 11 days after the Uri terror attack.
Parrikar’s ire about the Uri attack was evident, his former officer on special duty Upendra Joshi told the authors.
“As the Indian state plotted its revenge, intelligence chiefs, the national security advisor (NSA), top military and political leadership got into a series of huddles in the defence ministry’s out-of-bounds ‘war room’ in the maze of South Block. Waiting outside the premises, Parrikar’s OSD Joshi did not have a clue about history being written within the close sound-proofed doors,” the book states.
When India planned the surgical strike, the intelligence chief and the national security advisor used to meet in a ‘war room’ with then Union home minister Rajnath Singh and Parrikar, Joshi said, adding that he used to wait outside the room.
The book goes on to add that Parrikar did not sleep a wink when soldiers were dispatched across the Line of Control; all his staff knew he was waiting for the phone call. One of the former politician’s friends told the authors that he was desperate to speak to someone that night, and almost invited a journalist friend over after he or she called him three times, because he “wanted a friend to chat so he did not doze off during such a critical night”. He tried calling his son Utpal, who was on a business trip to Japan at the time, and when he finally got through, his first two words were “Pakistanak udaylo”.
Loneliness and tussle with Jaitley
Parrikar was self-confessedly lonely and frustrated with life in Delhi, but even when friends or acquaintances came to visit, he would put them up at guest houses due to the sensitive nature of his job. Subramanian Swamy was one of his regular visitors, while he also shared a good relationship with neighbour Suresh Prabhu and his wife Uma.
Another regular visitor was former advocate general of Goa Atmaram Nadkarni, who was appointed additional solicitor general at the Centre.
The book goes on to describe Parrikar’s ‘workaholic’ routine — he would wake up at 5 am and start inspecting ministry files at 5:30, while his OSD Joshi would join him at 6:45.
The book quotes Parrikar’s RSS senior Ratnakar Lele as saying he had differences with Jaitley, and told him the finance minister was delaying the resolution of the OROP issue.
In fact, when Parrikar returned to Goa as CM for the fourth time in 2017, he preferred not to attend meetings of the GST Council, despite holding the finance portfolio in the state.
Fish, films and beer
The book says when he was defence minister, Parrikar did not buy fish from Delhi’s INA Market. Instead, whenever Goa MLA Carlos Amelia visited Delhi, he would carry an ice box packed with fish freshly caught and delivered at a South Goa jetty. Parrikar’s cook would then take charge and cook it in a Goan way, with coconut gravy and a paste of chillies and turmeric.
On visits to Mumbai, Parrikar would also ask his friend Milind Karmarkar to pack a plate of crab and paan from his favourite shop — Karmarkar would wait on the road leading to the Mumbai airport, and once he spotted Parrikar’s convoy, he would wave it to a halt and Parrikar would take the parcel. “It was all done in a hurry. The first time, we were scared that security personnel would scold us, but when I told Manohar about it, he laughed at our concerns,” the book quotes Karmarkar as saying.
Parrikar also never made bones about his love for beer — he loved a pint of Heineken, but later on, started having Indian-made Bira while in Delhi, the book adds.