Manohar Parrikar: Destiny Ends A Brilliant Career

Manohar Parrikar was the most stable, effective, amiable and intelligent Raksha Mantri (RM) from the NDA 1 and 2 so far. He has been one of the few forward looking Raksha Mantris (RMs) of India who was pragmatic, hardworking, clear headed and open to suggestions. He always gave us an out of box solution to certain vexed issues. Shortly after taking over as RM he proclaimed that he would give the services a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) provided all three services were on the same platform.

Passing away of Manohar Parrikar is a loss not to the BJP alone but the whole political community of modern India. Tributes have been received cutting across party lines because essentially he was a cultured and amicable person who generally maintained the dignity of his office. A young IIT graduate, Manohar Parrikar became the Chief Minister of Goa in 2000 at the age of 45. Prior to that he had been an RSS worker from school days and leader of the opposition in Goa assembly. In one of the election conclaves of BJP in Goa in 2013, he was the first one to suggest that Modi should lead a united BJP campaign at national level. Modi was grateful to him and as a goodwill gesture got him to the Centre as a full time RM in November 2014. Prior to him the significantly important portfolio of defence was given as additional charge to an ailing finance minister.

The defence budget being limited in resources, Parrikar was able to clearly and pragmatically prioritise procurements for the three services. While he understood the need for modernisation of all the three services, he was also able to devise a time bound procurement plan. He tried to streamline and simplify procurement procedures and ushered in a new procurement policy. He had a very analytical mind and his being an IIT graduate helped him in coherently finding the way forward. A patient listener, he was quite quick on the uptake and was able to suggest workable but sometime naive, out of the box solutions to the defence forces.

Although he had excellent managerial abilities at the highest levels, his understanding about the actual conduct of operations was limited due to lakh of actual combat experience. However, he was a quick learner and during his short stint as the RM, the Army conducted surgical strikes across the international border with Myanmar and across line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

As a first he ordered some high level studies to be conducted by a group of retired and serving officers to streamline efficient functioning of the armed forces. As a result of these studies, outdated organisations were pruned or closed down to spare manpower and equipment for newly desired capabilities and capacity building.

The man had a flip side of his personality. He had no penchant for customs and time tested traditions of the armed forces and tried to bring in contemporary business practices which were not always well received by the veterans community. He was seen taking salute at ceremonies like guard of honour, a very solemn affair, in Chappals and crumpled bush shirt. At the same time, he was immaculately dressed in suit and Oxford shoes when he attended similar ceremonies abroad especially in the western countries. This did not go well with maintaining the traditions, ethos and elan of our proud armed forces and the veteran community.

Although he promised institution of the post of CDS and exhibited a will to resolve the One Rank One Pay issue, the bureaucrats salvaged his efforts and did not let these resolutions go through. He took credit for surgical strikes stating that he told the army what to do and how to do disregarding and downplaying the immaculate planning by senior officers and bold and audacious execution by junior leaders and troops on the ground. He did shake the bureaucrats a bit in a bid to make them more accountable and efficient but could not change their moral fibre and archaic ways of functioning.

He deviated from the proven tradition of martial music on beating the retreat after Republic Day celebrations to contemporary Bollywood style music with band players swaying in a manner not conforming to the values and traditions of the services. He was highly criticised for this act by the veterans and he confessed that he should take advice from the senior serving and retired officers before introducing radical changes. Inspite of his lack of strategic and operational depth in matters purely military, as a senior level manager he always gave suggestions some of which were workable and deserved to be given a chance.

Parrikar gave a fillip to all stalled defence projects because prior to him the services were not able to approach and convince the part time RM the necessity and urgency. Once he got the complete picture, which took about three months of detailed briefings from November 2014 to February 2015, he was able to prioritise logically and suggest to us how to stagger big ticket projects over the years in order to fit into the allotted defence budget. 

The much debated Rafael deal also exhibited his pragmatic approach wherein he agreed with PMO that at least two squadrons required urgently for strategic reasons should be procured through the fast government to government lane. Once the PMO took full charge of the Rafael deal he told the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to maintain a standoff distance and stayed out of the controversy inspite of opposition trying to rope him in.

In one of our meetings on enhancing the capacity of defence industries, I suggested to him that these units only worked during day light hours and if we had three continuous shifts around the clock like the heavy steel plants, then we could triple our production. He quite liked the idea but unfortunately, continuity was not maintained as he was sent back to Goa to cobble a minority coalition BJP government, which non other than him could have managed to stitch ; since one to one, congress had 25 percent more number of legislators than BJP in the state.

Parrikar would be remembered for what he achieved in his short life. Goa will always remain indebted to him for all the development he carried out in the state. The armed forces would always wish he had a longer tenure with them.

(The writer worked closely with Manohar Parrikar during the latter’s tenure as Defence Minister)