Remembering Mr Parrikar – Because ‘Nothing Is Off-Record’ With Us
As a cub reporter, I trailed Mr Parrikar extensively during Goa Elections 2017.
It was the end of an informal dinner that Manohar Parrikar had called with journalists of the "national media" after the 2017 Goa elections were done and dusted.
As he was leaving, a curious kid walked up to him and asked him for an autograph.
Mr Parrikar, of course, obliged.
While he was signing his name, the kid asks, “Excuse me, but what is your name?”
He smiles and says, "Manohar".
In a way, elections in Goa are Mr Parrikar himself – intense, but quiet.
If he were to read this piece today, he’d scoff and say, “there’s no off-record with the media”. He had repeated that phrase over and over again, and then some, whenever he’d come face-to-face with journalists.
At least that’s how it was during the Goa Assembly elections of 2017, which I covered as (what could qualify as) a cub reporter; one-and-a-half years into my first job after college as a television reporter for NDTV .
A large part of that election experience was trailing Mr Parrikar, who was the defence minister at the time.
The first time I saw him upfront was at a public rally in the central Goa village of Priol. He had come to campaign for an independent candidate supported by the BJP.
At the rally, organised by the Independent, people from many villages in the surrounding area waited over three hours to see and hear Manohar ‘Bhai’ Parrikar. The candidate didn’t quite matter. He walked in, spectacles around his neck, delivered a short speech, and then walked out to head for his next meeting. The roughly five-minute speech, delivered in his signature style, I realised later, summed up his personality: confident, simple, with some barely-there mischievous wit.
The Election Commission had just issued him a notice for a remark (which he later claimed was wrongly translated) which I, being the only TV journalist there, shouted out to him while he made his way to the car. I asked him to react to the notice.
He turned around to look at me. Said curtly that he will not speak to the media and walked away.
When it came to journalists, Mr Parrikar wasn’t the kind to prefer one media house over the other. When he didn’t want to talk, he just didn’t talk.
And every request for even an off-record meeting would be met with: “There’s no off record with the media.”
That didn’t make him unapproachable, though. His office was generally open for workers who wanted to meet him.
During Holi that election season, a bunch of women had come from Margaon (a good 40kms away) to see him.
“He is not keeping well,” one of them remarked. “He has lost weight”.
Soon, all of them were granted audience with the man who was known as the ‘Super Chief Minister’.
He was also very in-your-face about things he didn’t like.
Like this one time during the campaign, for example, when he was finally giving out interviews and a mate from another channel made the mistake of calling one of his present rivals, his political guru. Parrikar gestured to him even before he could finish his sign-off and gave him an earful for the same.
“Who told you he’s my mentor?”, he asked angrily.
He would joke about that incident whenever he met the journalist in question later. He was not one to forget things, or people if he'd met them once.
“I have a very sharp memory,” he would remark.
After the elections, the Congress won a majority with 17 seats in the 40-seat Assembly. In the scramble that followed to get the Independents and smaller parties on board, Mr Parrikar played the most crucial role. All the local parties had agreed to side with the BJP on one condition only – If Manohar Parrikar is made to return to Goa.
During the process, Parrikar and Nitin Gadkari were meeting leaders at a seven-star property is Goa. I was one of the first reporters to get the news and made my way to the hotel. Once there, I did a little bit of old-school reporter stalking and managed to land up outside the suite that the negotiations were taking place in.
I stood outside, without my camera, chatting with the Goa police personnel.
Parrikar came out of the suite to head to his room. He saw me and asked police how I got there. I immediately asked him if I could have two minutes of his time.
He looked at me – clearly amused – and said, “Go away now. I’ll talk to you soon. There’s no off-record with the media.”
He did live up to his promise. After the floor test for the government was done and the BJP had come to power in Goa, with Parrikar as chief minister for the fourth time, he organised the aforementioned dinner.
During the dinner, he saw me and remarked to everyone else, “This girl followed me into a hotel room! What do I say to her?!”
In the roughly 45 minutes that he spent with us, Mr Parrikar was relaxed and seemed to give off the vibe that the results were always a foregone conclusion.
It was also the first (and last) time in the entire election season that he seemed to open up.
He spoke about how the BJP was now concentrating on winning each state, no matter how big or small. How life in Delhi is great, but very lonely. And how characters in Goa politics were fluid, too fluid to be understood by the “national media” who only parachuted down to the state during elections. All this was peppered with anecdotes on how much he missed the fresh quality of Goa fish when he was in Delhi.
A gawky journalist at the time, I told him that he reminded me of Mamata Banerjee- just to make some small talk.
"Maybe work-wise. But my temperament is definitely not like hers", he replied casually, not betraying any emotion.
Mr Parrikar, I know the media and journalists weren’t your favourite breed. But most journalists would agree that there’s always that one politician that they consider to be their ‘beat’. A person they have authority on. To me, you were that person.
Rest In Peace, sir. I wish there were more off-record conversations.
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