Mumbai: Manohar Parrikar, four-time Chief Minister of Goa credited with expanding the base of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the coastal state, died Sunday evening at his son Utpal’s residence at Dona Paula. He was 63.
Parrikar, also a former Union defence minister and Rajya Sabha leader, was suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer. A widower, he is survived by his two sons.
Parrikar had been in and out of Goa for medical treatment since February 2018. He was initially admitted to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital and later shifted to the United States for three months. In September-October last year, Parrikar spent one month undergoing treatment at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) before returning to Dona Paula.
He was visibly weaker, but Parrikar handled the reins of the Goa government for five months after that, attending recent public events with a tube in his nose.
Despite Parrikar being critically ill, his government survived several attempts by the Congress to unseat them.
The death of the chief minister, a metallurgical engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, will leave the BJP with a huge leadership vacuum that it may struggle to fill in the coastal state.
Parrikar was seen as the only BJP leader capable of keeping the party’s patchwork coalition government in Goa afloat.
The RSS worker who went on to become CM
Parrikar, born in Goa’s Mapusa town, was deeply rooted in the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Those who know him well say the Chief Minister, a Gaud Saraswat Brahmin, had been well versed in the shakhas and systems of the RSS since his school days.
Parrikar was especially close to Subhash Velingkar, who was ousted as the Goa RSS chief in 2016 after he consistently criticised the BJP government for not withdrawing grants to English medium schools. Parrikar regarded Velingkar as a mentor and an elder brother, sources close to the former CM said.
For a leader who grew to become indispensable to the BJP in Goa, Parrikar began his political innings on a sour note: In 1991, he lost by over 50,000 votes to the Congress’ Harish Zantye in the North Goa parliamentary seat.
Three years later, in 1994, he was elected to the Goa legislative assembly for the first time after winning the Panjim seat. The BJP had then mustered four MLAs in the 40-member house.
By June 1999, Parrikar was the leader of the opposition in the assembly, with the BJP having dislodged the regional Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party as the main opposition outfit in the state.
Parrikar remained the leader of the opposition till November 1999, when the BJP joined hands with a breakaway Congress faction to establish a coalition government. Parrikar is said to have closely helped the then CM Francisco Sardinha.
Within the year, however, Parrikar would take over as chief minister, for the first time in his career, in a dramatic sequence of events. In October 2000, the then CM Sardinha was in Australia for a tourism promotion event when the state BJP, with Parrikar at the helm, hatched a plot to withdraw support to the Sardinha government and stake claim to power, with the support of 22 MLAs. The party succeeded.
His first taste of chief ministership also came about a month after he lost his wife, Medha, also to cancer.
“She wanted a quiet simple family life, while her husband was deeply committed to Goa’s politics,” Dattesh Prabhu Parulekar, an assistant professor at the Goa University and a friend of Parrikar, told ThePrint.
“Seeing his passion for politics, she always told him that he should aim to be the CM of Goa and the day he did, he didn’t have her by his side. He had tears in his eyes when he took oath,” Parulekar added.
Parrikar’s first term as CM lasted from October 2000 to February 2002, after which he became the chief minister three more times — in June 2002, in December 2012 and the latest in March 2017.
As Chief Minister, Parrikar acquired a reputation as a hands-on task-master aggressively pushing for development, particularly during his first few years at the helm. He spent a lot of money and efforts in beautifying Panjim’s waterfront and creating a beautiful heritage precinct, pitching Goa as the permanent venue for the International Film Festival of India, which now returns to the coastal state every year.
His term from 2012, when he wrested power back from the Congress, was marked by a more populist agenda.
As opposition leader heading the Public Accounts Committee, Parrikar had drafted a controversial report indicting former Congress CM Digambar Kamat and a few other party leaders for allegedly aiding illegal mining.
Later, as CM, he often faced charges from his rivals of shielding the very things that he rallied against, such as the mining lobby and Goa’s offshore casinos.
The simple CM of Goa
The BJP leader’s most striking characteristics were his blunt, straightforward manner of speaking, at times bordering on arrogance, and his workaholic nature that went completely against the Goan susegad (laidback) stereotype. This was something that even his rivals acknowledged.
“In 1999, when the Congress’ Pratapsingh Rane was the assembly speaker, he was so impressed by Parrikar, then an opposition leader, that Rane said sooner or later Parrikar would be the CM of Goa,” Parulekar said. “Rane would also keep the assembly library open till midnight only because Parrikar would work late.”
Parrikar was also known to shun the perks of the job. BJP leader Shaina N.C. recollects an incident that demonstrated his humility. Parrikar, Shaina told ThePrint, was in Mumbai one day to honour a dinner invitation that she and her father had extended to him.
Shaina remembers waiting for a chief minister’s convoy, only for a taxi to roll up, with Parrikar making his way out of it. “He said that he couldn’t find his car at the airport and so decided to hop into a taxi,” Shaina said.
“My father said he could have arranged for a car had he known, but Parrikar maintained that he would have any way preferred a taxi ride as it was a good chance to get to know the city and its people,” she added.
Parrikar almost never had a large convoy of cars following him, with local media reports saying that he even rode his scooter in Panjim a few times. He also always wore his trademark bush shirts, trousers and sandals, and shrugged it off when a guard at a five-star hotel in Goa’s capital city mistakenly frisked him, unaware that it was the chief minister entering the hotel’s premises.
An unwilling Goan in Delhi
Parrikar, who had strongly backed Narendra Modi’s leadership for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was said to be a close aide of the Prime Minister.
In his third stint as the Goa Chief Minister, he resigned in November 2014 to be elevated to the Union Cabinet and took charge of the prestigious defence portfolio.
Those close to Parrikar say he was always in the reckoning for a senior party post at the Centre but was never too willing to leave Goa and, when he did, he missed his fish curry rice and chicken cafreal the most.
As defence minister, Parrikar is remembered for India’s surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It was also during his tenure that the Modi government announced that it was implementing the one rank-one pension scheme, which veterans were still unhappy about.
While at the helm of the ministry, Parrikar inked a strategic partnership with the United States for the armed forces of the two countries to share each others’ assets and facilities for repairs, maintenance and training.
He rushed back to Goa in 2017, when the BJP sought to cobble together an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Forward Party and independents to establish a government in the state, even though the Congress had the highest tally in the assembly elections.
Parrikar’s leadership was the only condition on which the alliance hinged.
This charisma and the demand for the leader, however, also belies his greatest political shortcoming, which over the past few months has become glaringly apparent.
Parrikar established the BJP’s electoral base in Goa, helped it repeatedly snatch power, and grew in stature as a leader. But the one thing that he either never managed or never bothered to do was groom more Parrikars after him.