By Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)
My first encounter with Manohar Parrikar was when he was the Defence Minister. He was scheduled to address a seminar jointly hosted by my organization and an Industry Association on 25 February, 2016 at the India International Centre, New Delhi.
The theme of the conclave was Self Reliance in Defence through Design and Development. The new Defence Procurement Procedure – 2016 was expected to be released during the DefExpo at Goa. The industry had many a question to be answered and Parrikar amended our format for conduct of the conclave in tune with the mood of the audience. He did away with his talk and instead devoted the next hour to a question answer session.
There were no one liners in his responses, as I have often heard Defence Ministers resorting to. He took every bull by the horns without displaying either intolerance or implying that he was infallible. It was also obvious that he had an understanding of every detail of the DPP 2016 that he was to approve.
Amongst the speakers on that day was also an erudite politician from the opposition camp. The gentleman was honest enough to speak his mind when off the stage. To one of my colleagues, he admitted that Parrikar had done a path-breaking job.
But, Parrikar himself never said that the draft DPP 2016 was going to be the last word. He accepted many of the suggestions and requested the individuals concerned to send him a more detailed note.
My interaction with the senior military hierarchy who were a part of the sessions’ panels provided more insight into the man’s personality. For a change, I found them to be functioning as part of a team; Team Parrikar. The senior-most, who attended his meetings could spar with him, get peeved, be loud and yet at the end of day feel satisfied with the collegiate decision taken.
Here was a man who was as much a part of the forces as one can be without wearing an uniform. In my years in service I have seen many a defence minister come and go, but never have I found one whom all echelons of the services loved.
The Defence Minister of any country is an all-important integral part of the military – political leadership that’s invested with the onerous task of defending and extending the nations interests.
It’s a team, and tighter the construct of the team, more are the chances that the country will have a sound defence architecture. As a leader of the team invested with such a responsibility, the first requirement is being a team man himself. Parrikar may be adjudged either way by his protagonists and antagonists, but he was certainly a leader who could inspire military men.
Parrikar was an IIT graduate; a background that provided the wherewithal for him to adopt an analytical approach to problem solving. With the technological thresholds being pushed to extremes in today’s combat zones, Parrikar had an advantage of quick comprehension.
He had also been an entrepreneur who ran his own manufacturing concern. A fact that he recurrently emphasized in various conclaves he addressed. It gave him an insight, especially into the risks and rough seas that small industries navigate through.
He had also the advantage of exposure to leadership positions before he was made the Defence Minister. He had already been the Leader of Opposition in the Goa Assembly and the Chief Minister of Goa. When the call came for him to move to Delhi, he seemed reluctant, but finally arrived, to be given one of the prime portfolios – Defence Minister.
He was sent back to Goa to hold the reigns again, when Goa seemed to be slipping out of the ruling party’s clasp. He steadied the boat with local politicians displaying firm faith in none but him as the Chief Minister.
The fortitude with which he held his office as he kept losing his battle with cancer is a remarkable example of the fighting spirit of a man destined to win no longer. The last of his photographs that I have seen are those of his attending his office with a tube running into his nose.
It made me recall the withering man I had met at Goa, over six months back. He was fighting it out quite remarkably, then. However, the deterioration couldn’t be overlooked.
Surely, he is a man who has wrestled with many challenges in his life, for his party, in building Goa and strengthening the long neglected defence of our country.
The last bull that he took by the horns was cancer, and wrestled with it like a soldier till his clock ticked no more.
Adieu Mr Parrikar. You were a General at heart!
(Views expressed are author’s own.)