Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar is a long name, but he is short-tempered with his foes as the surgical strikes against terror camps in Pakistan revealed. The sixty-year-old metallurgical engineer, with an artfully dishevelled hair, from tiny Goa has suddenly acquired a humongous halo. NDA’s defence ministers were not all clotheshorses. Parrikar steps into his office wearing chappals and half-sleeved shirts not tucked into his pants, reminding old-timers in North Block of George Fernandes walking into South Block and the War Room in crumpled kurta pyjamas and sandals.
India’s 31st defence minister doesn’t give the impression of machismo on the prowl. Yet decorated generals and snooty IAS officers who sit in front of him to hear and give briefings feel his presence powerfully. His decisive personality is not derived from his IIT-Bombay training. He speaks the language of the common soldier. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Unlike other erudite colleagues and predecessors, Parrikar has chosen to be politically incorrect. Aggression is his best defence. In the past two years, he has dismantled numerous roadblocks, ensured full accountability and given fetterless freedom in decision-making to all defence organisations.
Much to the chagrin of civil servants, Parrikar has enhanced the involvement of uniformed personnel in strategic decision-making. Above all, he has made it clear that diplomacy in defence matters is the last resort of scoundrels. It should be left to South Block seneschals to deal with the fallout of any military action. It was thus a rare moment for the ministry when a Lt General and a senior external affairs ministry official were directed to brief the media on the surgical strikes in PoK.
For the past few weeks, devious dilettantes of détente who talk peace but practice treachery have targeted Parrikar. As Pakistan escalated and aided terror attacks against India, he chose not to mince words but vowed to make mincemeat of those with evil designs on the country. He had the full backing of PM Narendra Modi. After decades, Parrikar is the first defence minister to have instructed the Army to publicly admit, nay flaunt, the successful cross-border strikes. Though the Congress claimed that during the UPA regime, too, the Army carried out similar strikes on its orders, not even once were these punitive actions publicised, fearing international isolation. Team Modi-Parrikar used the military action as a moral weapon to quarantine Pakistan. No country in the world bothered to respond to Pakistan’s appeal for at least a mild statement condemning India. Yet there were many domestic demagogues who hounded the government to offer evidence of the strikes in name of neutralising Pak propaganda. Parrikar invited the wrath of peaceniks with the loaded statement, “We will use terrorism (yes, terrorists) to encounter terrorism by Pakistan or Pakistani militants.” He was dubbed a hawk. His political adversaries questioned Parrikar’s ability to be the defence minister. The former Goa CM was for all purposes just articulating the established practice of using surrendered terrorists to identify and eliminate active terrorists.
Parrikar doesn’t lose any opportunity to take on the rhetoric-liberals who choose to attack the Modi government for intolerance. Earlier, he had come under fire for taking on film star Aamir Khan for his remarks about intolerance in India. Although he did not mention Aamir by name, the media indicated that Parrikar was targeting the B-Town icon. The minister reportedly said in Pune, “One actor had said that his wife wants to live out of India. It was an arrogant statement. If I am poor and my house is small, I will still love my house and always dream to make a bungalow out of it,” adding, “How come people get guts or courage to speak against the country? Such people need to be taught a lesson by the people of this country.” Parrikar’s firm views on defence matters are reflective of his previous association with the RSS. In his early days, he was an RSS instructor and was associated with the Ram Janmabhumi Movement.
It is evident that the easygoing Goan with iron in his soul is perhaps the only minister from such a highly cosmopolitan state to have resisted the lure of Lutyens’ Delhi, which teems with invisible interlocutors hobnobbing with defence lobbyists. While his predecessors were wary of clearing defence procurements, Parrikar broke all records by placing orders worth over Rs 70,000 crore in 2015 alone. Some prominent defence watchers see in Parrikar all the qualities of a former defence minister Yashwant Rao Chavan. Jawaharlal Nehru brought him to Delhi from Maharashtra after India’s humiliating defeat by China in 1962. A newcomer to capital politics, Chavan completed Nehru’s mandate for a total overhaul of India’s defence status. Though Nehru died soon after, India’s victory against Pakistan in 1965 under the leadership of PM Lal Bahadur Shastri was made possible due to Chavan’s close monitoring of defence preparedness. It was due to this groundwork that Indira Gandhi could defeat and divide Pakistan in 1971. Jagjivan Ram was her defence minister then. Perhaps Modi chose Parrikar because of his nationalist credentials and integrity.
The country’s arsenal is depleted and needs modernisation. India, one of the largest importers of defence equipment, is likely to spend over $50 billion (`3.50 lakh crore) on arms purchases by 2020. Modi cannot afford to give anyone with even a slight blemish on his personality the sensitive task of procuring armaments. Even a minor slip on the government’s part could spoil the BJP’s electoral prospects in 2019. The party is using Parrikar’s uncompromising stance as an example of its resoluteness in protecting India’s borders in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, which has sent him to the Rajya Sabha. India’s defence minister has to be aware that he makes a prominent target for any political saboteur not because he takes a hawkish position on national security, but because he presides over a mountain of money, which has been used in the past by avaricious defence agents and their benefactors in the system to their gain. They would like to see a politically weakened Parrikar who would not only be helpless to stem leakages, but will also be unable to stop the blunting of India’s resolve to neutralise its enemies.