Manohar Parrikar, the Gentleman Raksha Mantri – Rest In Peace
I commence this virtual obituary for late Manohar Parrikar with an expression of deep regret and sincere condolences. While he will be most remembered for his contribution to his home state Goa, of which he was the chief minister till he breathed his last, I would like to remember him for his outstanding tenure as Raksha Mantri (RM).
Unfortunately, it first took six months to create the conditions for his succession in Goa to enable him to be spared for the high-profile appointment of RM. Thereafter, although initially a slightly reluctant RM, he left his stamp everywhere in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), such that 30 months after his appointment his subordinates were unhappy to see him vacate the seat to meet the political needs of his state.
Read all the live updates on political developments in Goa here.
The MoD by reputation is always known to be a domain with which most politicians are uncomfortable.
The triangular relationship between the political head of the ministry, the bureaucrats and the military hierarchy is again an awkward one, which most RM’s fail to comprehend. The core human resources and material the RM controls are the Armed Forces, who have no representation in the ministry.
Supreme Confidence Parrikar’s Advantage
As such, much depends on the relationship that the RM establishes with the Service Chiefs. Parrikar’s advantage was his supreme confidence, first as a seasoned politician and then as a technical buff; the latter gave him the motivation to investigate military technology, the IIT background making all the difference.
He was not reluctant to learn and being a willing traveller, he was ever ready to spend time away from Delhi visiting military organisations and interacting with officers and troops.
I had the pleasure of being nominated to various informal veteran committees to meet and brief him. In the first of these scheduled meetings, the other members turned up a little late due to Delhi’s perennial traffic woes.
I was there on time and had an exclusive one-on-one with him, drawing his attention to various priority issues, chief among them at that time were one rank one pension (OROP), the acute shortage of artillery, the dwindling numbers of aircraft in the Air Force, and the major deficiency in service ammunition.
In the short period that he had been in Delhi, he had obviously picked up enough to be able to participate in the discussion in an informed way. Committees of veterans met him often to brief him on issues that were perceived as those of priority. These meetings usually took place at his residence and were followed up by the most delicious dinners comprising the local fare of his home state, Goa.
Taking OROP By Scruff of The Neck
One of the first issues that Manohar Parrikar took by the scruff of the neck was OROP. In an early interaction with the media, he did ruffle feathers when he mentioned that no proposal in government ever received hundred percent approvals and complainants must be happy with eighty percent. While the OROP agitation could not be completely convinced about the full delivery of their demands, there was substantial achievement which positively affected a large number of older veterans.
With his willingness to accept that all was not well with the MoD and its relationship with the Service Headquarters (HQ), one of the first committees he formed was for reduction of litigation in MoD. He received a 500-page report with recommended practical actions, that once implemented would not just reduce litigation but also improve the relationship between service personnel and the bureaucracy which handled their cases – the main among them was the issue relating to disability.
He had no reluctance in appointing two younger veterans to the committee, taking advantage of their expertise and sense of commitment. Majors Navdeep Singh, and DP Singh had much contribution to make, given their expertise respectively in the legal and disability related fields.
Appointing Review Committee For DPP
He appointed a committee to review the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). The DPP 2016 was issued in April 2016 coinciding with the raising of FDI in defence to 49 percent. Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s clarion call for ‘Make in India’ with relation to defence equipment, it was Parrikar who was the first regular RM who worked towards giving the ambitious concept some flesh and muscle. It was also in the field of ammunition reserves that the Indian Army had a major challenge.
Over time, the deficiency of crucial reserves had reached alarming proportions. I made some critical comments on this in my writings and on social media and was rewarded by a call from the RM. He took a good ten minutes to explain to me how he had reorganised the system with freshly devolved powers to allow for quicker imports to be made in critical areas by the Service HQ itself.
When the ambush on the army convoy in Manipur took place in June 2016 and the Army suffered heavy losses, it was Parrikar’s full backing which enabled the Army to swiftly identify the militant camps along the border and destroy them. That cycle of decision-making came handy when the challenge arose against Pakistan after the Uri attack in September 2016.
Of course, Parrikar’s role in the surgical strikes is aptly captured in the film Uri, The Surgical Strike but in real life, his contribution was far more than reflected in the film. The political and military risks were immense and as RM it was his responsibility to calibrate and get to the right decisions even as the Army delivered a huge success.
While Parrikar was willing to back the long delayed modernisation of the armed forces, his personal requirements include interaction with jawans on a level that displayed his immense humility. His simple shirt, trousers and sandals turnout with a bit of a crumpled look did not initially go down well with the spick-and-span military.
Political Situation in Goa Robbed Indian Army of The Finest Def Min
However, he later came to be accepted just as he was because of his innate simplicity. Meeting him after his visit to an army formation, Parrikar complained that he did not wish any soldier to do personal work for him while he was staying at guest rooms in cantonments. The trappings of power can go the heads of the richest and the most famous, but Parrikar managed to shun these in favour of a more relaxed personal administration.
It was the political situation in Goa which robbed the Indian Armed Forces of one of its finest RMs. One must never forget that his placement in MoD was primarily designed around his highly reputed integrity. He came with that to the Centre and left with it to go back to stabilise Goa for his party. It was a short incumbency by any standards but not short on achievement and the legacy of ideas.
Manohar Parrikar endeared himself to the uniformed community due to his sincerity and focus, which makes us recall him more as a disciplined soldier rather than a political leader.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)