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Home >Opinion >Views >Opinion: The legacies of an uncomplicated Manohar Parrikar

Contradictions characterize the life story and political trajectory of Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar, who was cremated on Monday with full state honours in Panjim, the pocket-sized capital city he represented for 25 years. His personal rectitude was unimpeachable, yet flamboyant criminality flourished under his watch. He loved Goa with touching sincerity, but also fostered immensely grave threats that continue to imperil its social, cultural and environmental well-being. His easy-going charm held no communal edge, but he leaves India’s smallest state polarized like never before since decolonization.

It’s an unexpectedly tragic legacy for one of India’s brightest political stars, who debuted with seemingly unlimited promise in 1994 as the very first IIT graduate to take up elected office. Parrikar drew immediate national attention for his technocratic approach, hard work and casual mastery of subject material. In 2000, he became the chief minister for the first time, but even as the leader of the opposition, he remained all-powerful in state polity. All the while, his status within the BJP grew. In 2009, it was the Goan who heralded Modi’s rise to party leadership with the ungentle jibe: “Pickle tastes good when it is left to mature for a year. But, if you keep it for more than two years, it turns rancid. Advaniji’s period is more or less over."

Parrikar’s plain-speaking modesty had irresistible appeal, both in Goa and on the national stage. But that self-effacing mien was deceptive, because alongside came an unshakeable belief in his own abilities that often crossed the line to arrogance. He found it very difficult to countenance rivals within his party, and comprehensively failed to nurture the next generation of politicians. This meant outright disaster the moment his grasp on power weakened, following the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in early 2018. From that moment, warring factions in his uneasy coalition battled openly against each other, as well as the party leadership. Their fractious inability to settle on any replacement forced the dramatically weakening 63-year-old to continue in office until the bitter end.

The residents of Panjim, the pretty riverside city, have seen their gracious way of life severely degraded. They remember the BJP leader railing against casinos in 2012, as “a social evil" he would eradicate, then reversing gears immediately after being elected, and eventually allowing the reviled gambling boats to mushroom their neon footprint all along the city waterfront.

In recent months, as the man at the helm visibly faded, residents of Panjim watched in shock as outrageously incompetent proxies ran roughshod.

Millions of dollars have been squandered with no appreciable results, as prime heritage buildings, like the 500-year-old Adil Shah Palace, were hijacked by highly dubious bureaucrats and cronies operating with impunity, without any semblance of accountability. In this way, huge damage was done to the reputation of Parrikar, while the man himself lay almost helpless in his sickbed. It’s one of the saddest, most shameful final chapters in the history of Indian democracy.

Vivek Menezes is a widely published writer and photographer, and co-founder and co-curator of the annual Goa Arts + Literature Festival.

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