The original 'Aam Aadmi' Neta

By on May 07, 2019
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The original  'Aam Aadmi' Neta

India’s first IIT-educated chief minister and a BJP leader who ensured communal amity, Manohar Parrikar was also definitively shaped by his beloved Goa

In December 2013, the entire national media was in a tizzy over Arvind Kejriwal and his aam aadmi image. Every move of the man who would be Delhi chief minister was being seen as trend-setting: he was projected as a ‘new age’ leader breaking away from the capital’s oppressive VVIP culture.

I was in Goa on my annual break and invited chief minister Manohar Parrikar for dinner. When he arrived in his trademark bush shirt, trousers and sandals, he had a complaint: “Why are all you TV-wallahs obsessed with this Kejriwal? Only because he is based in Delhi? Some of us also lead simple lives only we don’t make a show of it on TV!”

He wasn’t exaggerating. In his many years as MLA and later, chief minister, Parrikar had built a well-deserved reputation as a politician who consciously avoided the trappings of power. When we invited him to a TV event in 2012, he insisted on travelling economy without an entourage of assistants, handled his own baggage at the airport and didn’t even take the official car. “It’s your private function, why should I use public money?” was his reasoning. In Goa too, the image of a chief minister who travelled without security and the flashing lal batti motorcade was embossed in the public mind. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of how he was once on a scooter when a car being driven by a police officer’s son banged into him. As the young man got out and flashed his connections, Parrikar just lifted his helmet and smiled: “Yes, I know who you are but I am also your chief minister!”

When a few years later, Mr Parrikar moved to Delhi as the country’s Defence minister, he remained true to his aam aadmi leanings. For months, he stayed in the Navy guest house as a government bungalow had still not been allotted to him. Not that he was complaining. His grouse was different – he had to attend a series of ceremonial functions from Army Day to Republic Day and was having his limited sartorial preferences sorely tested. “You know, I don’t like all these formal functions because I really don’t like wearing these fancy clothes and shoes!” he insisted. Which might partly explain why he could never really adjust to Lutyens Delhi. Parrikar was a man from the west coast, whose life had been shaped by the sights and sounds of Goa’s gentle sea breeze, placid waters and warm sun. Goenkars like their fish curry rice, their afternoon siesta and a languid pace of life. It breeds self-contentment and an unhurried approach to life: the cut and thrust of Delhi’s power games is unsuited to the Goan way of life. As a true son of the soil, Parrikar was a fish out of water in the capital’s political turbulence. And yet, he never made a fuss. The prime minister had tasked him with an important job, and like a dyed-in-the-wool disciplined RSS worker, he would abide by the leadership’s decision. For Parrikar, the Defence ministry posed a challenge and an opportunity – the challenge of cutting through the bureaucratic stranglehold 

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