A disciplined Sangh member, Parrikar’s tryst with the RSS started from his childhood and continued through his days at IIT-Bombay. Returning to Goa, after dropping out while doing post-graduation at IIT-Bombay, Parrikar continued as a sanghchalak before he was pushed into politics.
Parrikar’s political start was far from smooth. It was in 1988 that the Sangh decided to depute Parrikar to the party. In 1991, BJP, which hardly had any presence in the state, asked him to contest for the North Goa Lok Sabha seat.
“His first election as a Lok Sabha candidate secured him nearly 25,000 votes, which prompted the party to bring him into active politics. When I was the party president in 1991, he was given the charge of general secretary,” says Union Ayush minister and North Goa MP Shripad Naik.
Parrikar, the consummate politician, mastered the art quickly and within three years, this Mapusa resident had taken over the capital city of Panaji as its elected representative, wresting the seat from Congress. Since 1994, Panaji has been impenetrable, with Parrikar guarding it for BJP. It was also the first time that BJP entered the Goa assembly with four members, and it was the first-time MLA from Panaji who rewrote Goa’s political history as the anti-corruption crusader.
“Parrikar’s firebrand personality, confidence to take on the ruling front in the assembly and exposing their scams gained him popularity among the masses,” says Naik.
An expert in social re-engineering in the state, Parrikar cut across caste and religious lines. He retained the discipline and simplicity that he learnt from the Sangh, but was pragmatic when it came to political equations. Be it going to the church to seek blessings before filing nominations or hobnobbing with the Catholic community in the state, Parrikar used his IITian tag and intellectual prowess to shed the image of an RSS man. With an uncanny ability to predict the opponents’ moves and outthink them with pre-emptive strikes, Parrikar was a man in a hurry to establish BJP’s footprints across the state.
“His educational qualifications, ability to raise voice against corruption and vision for the development of the state helped the party to grow,” says another senior party functionary, who worked closely with him.
So, in 2000 when he became the first IITian chief minister of the country at a young age of 44, it came as no surprise to many Goans. Parrikar, the man, didn’t change and that endeared him to the masses, not just in the state but across the country. His attire was simple and the trademark chappals continued to adorn his feet. His popularity soared as he stopped the traditional practice of using the beacon for his official car, started sitting next to the driver in his official vehicle, became the most accessible chief minister in the post-statehood era, launched innovative schemes and showed grit and courage to get corrupt politicians arrested.
Interestingly, Parrikar became a chief minister of a state without having any experience in the government. But it was his penchant for studying the files and issues and understanding the pulse of the people, which he perfected as an opposition leader, that made him grow in stature.
He understood the political dynamics of the state that had around 27% Christian population and immediately built bridges with the Church, adopting a stand that deviated with the party’s thinking. He consciously went out of his way to please the minorities, the tribals and the OBCs. He was the true pioneer of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ and despite continuing to be a favourite of the Nagpur-headquartered organisation, he shared a good rapport with the minorities.
No wonder that in the 2012 assembly election, when BJP got a majority of its own with 21 seats in the 40-member House, nearly one-third of the members were from the minority community. “In 2012, the Church’s stance against corruption helped BJP. It was more an endorsement for Parrikar rather than the party,” says a senior functionary.
Even now, of the 14 BJP seats, seven legislators are Catholics.
A four-time chief minister of the state, Parrikar has never been able to complete his full term of five years. But that never deterred him from staying true to his work. He was the biggest asset that BJP had and its poster boy.
Parrikar was the low command and the high command, and the void that he has left behind will be difficult for the party to fill.
Manohar Parrikar — The man who changed Goan politics – Times of India