November 22, 2014

BEST OF LUCK, BAAB!

GOA CM PARRIKAR SWORN-IN AS DEFENCE MINISTER


Early February 2005. Months after the BJP lost the national elections to the Congress and its allies, the saffron regime in Panjim was looking shaky as four of the party's 17 MLAs including the then Transport Minister Digamber Kamat switched their allegiance and joined the principal opposition, the INC. After a controversial vote on the floor of the assembly, the incumbent governor S C Jamir dismissed the state government, terming it 'unconstitutional'. Protests broke out near the BJP state headquarters located at the Navelkar Arcade, close to the Municipality. A friend of mine who lives in the complex called me knowing my interest in politics. The crowd of about 200 people (that is big by Goan standards) shouting slogans against the governor, fell into silence as the CM who had been shunted just hours ago, emerged from the office where he held a meeting with the 'remaining' saffron MLAs and other party leaders. As he addressed the gathering and declared that he would continue fighting the INC in spite of the setback, some angry BJP workers announced a 'Goa bandh' to protest over the actions of the governor who they accused of being a pawn of the Congress party. Surprisingly, in a nation where politicians are known to go to any extent for their individual gains, the deposed CM - Manohar Parrikar reprimanded his followers fully aware that a strike could cost the exchequer dearly.

Having stayed in the beach state for a decade, this is one of the many incidents that come to my mind whenever I think about the former Goa CM. In a state which is notorious for political instability, a state which is infamous for electoral malpractices like horse trading, MLA poaching and switching loyalties, Parrikar baab stands head and shoulders above the rest. As far as I can recollect, he along with his party colleague and rival Shripad Naik (North Goa MP and OBC strong man) are the only two leaders who have never 'crossed over' in search of greener pastures. A five time MLA from Panjim, he created history in October 2000 when he became the first Chief Minister to have graduated from the prestigious IITs. Some of the programmes implemented by him during his second tenure including the very popular Cyber Age Scheme under which computers are given to all higher secondary students (Class XI & XII) for a paltry sum of Rs. 1000/-, found praise from all quarters. Seven years after staying out of power, he lead his party to a famous win in 2012 state elections; his work as the Chairman of a committee appointed to probe into illegal mining and his efforts to win the trust of the influential Catholic community were seen as instrumental in cornering the Congress regime headed by Digamber Kamat - the same man who had 'back stabbed' Parrikar way back in 2005. With the BJP winning a whopping 21 seats, it was the first time since 1984 that a party had won majority on its own in the Goa assembly. In spite of the fact that the mining ban has severely crunched the government's revenues, he managed to run the administration pretty well. Off late, he did face flake from some sections for his unclear stand on issues like Medium of Instruction and the 'anti-Christian' statements made by his colleagues from the MGP. However, there is no doubt that every Goan, irrespective of his or her political affiliation would have been saddened as he resigned from his post and took oath as the Defence Minister of the country.

On several occasions, the new PM has said that he has this knack of picking the right people for the right job; of course, many would question Modi's claim with 'tainted' men like Giriraj Singh making to the union cabinet. Anyway, there is no doubt that the former Goa CM is arguably, one of the best candidates to handle the pressure related to this high profile job. Like his predecessor in the UPA (A K Anthony), Parrikar is largely seen as non-corrupt in spite of being in active politics for over two decades. Moreover, he is a proven administrator; unlike Anthony, he will be more willing to take risks, if it is in the best interests of our armed forces. Also, he is less likely to succumb to the pressures of the various lobbies that come into the picture during the time of multi-million defence deals. Modernizing the Indian defence sector and getting it in on par with the likes of China is one of the primary agenda of the BJP regime. FDI in this sector too is something that Modi is believed to be keen on so that we could reduce our dependence on foreign firms. With the Goan leader having graduated from IIT which is one of the most prestigious technical institutes in the nation, he is certainly expected to oversee his master's above mentioned grand plans. Lastly, Parrikar is a workaholic; his style of functioning in many ways is similar to Narendra Modi. And the fact that he is close to the PM and the party president Amit Shah only helps.

The new defence minister has his task cut out. Combating Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism and keeping a check on home grown militant modules like the Indian Mujahideen is a top priority. On the eastern border, we need a strong policy to counter repeated Chinese incursions into Indian territory. At the same time, it is imperative that we develop our infrastructure along the Indo-China border so as to enable quick deployment of troops and weapons in case of a war. There is an urgent need to revamp the Indian Navy which seems to in urgent need of attention. Modernizing our military capabilities, FDI in Defence, stimulating the growth arms producing firms in India, improving co-ordination between the three commands and a good work life balance for our soldiers are other issues which will figure high in his priority list. For a politician who has worked largely within the state of Goa, handling the defence minister will be the biggest challenge of his political career so far. The PM has showed tremendous confidence by calling him to the Centre, by-passing other senior leaders including Murli Manohar Joshi, Nitin Gadkari, Venkaiyya Naidu and Uma Bharati. If he can justify Modi's faith in him, he will surely be rewarded with more such prestigious offers in the future.

As Manohar Parrikar settles into his new job, I wish him all the best. Hope that he makes the country and Goa proud!