Former Chief Minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar led a life worth noting for its inspirational arc. The politician was one of the most powerful figures, and his journey to reach where he had equally humane. In the upcoming book, An Extraordinary Life: A biography of Manohar Parrikar, by Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, Parrikar’s ascent to power and life has been documented in vivid details. Published by Penguin Random House India, it will be out later this month.
After a post-cabinet press conference at the State Secretariat in Goa, a journalist and his female colleague rushed after the chief minister, who had already hit the small passage between the conference room and his office. It’s tough to keep pace with Parrikar, whose long strides eat up space quickly. The two journalists scampered alongside, trying to catch his attention as well as to make an elevator pitch for the cabinet note.
The cabinet note is a document that lists government business to be discussed at the cabinet meeting, which the chief minister had just read out from. The journalists were keen to lay their hands on the document, in order to obtain more details about a cabinet decision, which Parrikar had just announced at the media briefing minutes ago.
Without breaking his stride, Parrikar gave the two journalists a printed copy of the note with casual, mild irritation and said: ‘Take[. . .] take everything you want. Just spare me my underwear.’ For several moments, the two journalists, which included a woman, forgot about the contents of the cabinet note, trying to grapple with the absurdity of the comment. ‘Did he just say underwear?’ the journalists asked each other at the same moment before laughing it off.
The introduction to this chapter isn’t styled as a click-bait strategy aimed at grabbing the readers’ attention. That’s just the Parrikar whom journalists in Goa had known for years. Quirky, abrasive, ridiculously hilarious, insulting, intimidating, contemptuous, all rolled in one.
Parrikar’s relationship with the media in Goa did not have bitter overtones when he started off in politics all those years ago. In fact, he was quite the media darling. And the reasons were pretty much valid. In the vast ocean of inarticulate, Dictaphone tape-eating politicians, Parrikar stood out when he was first elected to the state legislative assembly in Panaji. He was quick, to-the-point, articulate and one who could roll out numbers and facts from his mouth quicker than a magician could yank a bunny out of a hat. And he was accessible.
As an Opposition MLA keen to make a mark for himself and his party, the forever busy and bustling Parrikar could be found at one address on most evenings. The press room at the Old Secretariat in Panaji, which was housed in a tiny corner of what was once Adil Shah’s grand summer palace.
If in Paris of the 1920s, you would need to walk into Le Dingo bar for Ernest Hemingway’s company, to seek out Parrikar in the 1990s, on most evenings one would have to simply drop by the good old press room that overlooked the Mandovi River. And while a charming former English boxer Jimmie Charters waited on his patrons at the Parisian bar, at the press room there was Mohan Pednekar, a caretaker who worked for the state government’s Department of Information and Publicity, even after retirement! As soon as Parrikar would walk in and greet the journalists lounging around the space, Pednekar would hand him a cup of tea.
Parrikar had a special relationship with the wizened old man. Pednekar was a registered voter from Panaji, a city that Parrikar represented as MLA. Saddled in a plastic chair, a cup of tea in his hand and an eager audience around him, conversations would start. Parrikar would either offer news leads that journalists could work on or plant some story ideas, which augured well for the BJP or his own political plans.
It was at the press room that Parrikar would tune into the latest that the journalists’ grapevine had on offer and contributed with some political gossip too. Conventionally, the relationship between an Opposition MLA and a journalist is a symbiotic one. Both need the other. But as a young MLA, Parrikar also managed to make friends or close allies who would help him in his ascent to power.
Parrikar came to realise that the existing BJP cadre and the potential vote-base that the party wanted to snare, was one whose readers would open the pages of Marathi newspapers like the Dainik Gomantak or Tarun Bharat or Navprabha first thing in the morning over a cup of tea and perhaps poha. Because of the BJP’s predominant Hindu appeal, the Konkani-speaking, Marathi- newspaper-readers were Parrikar’s target audience.
He made early inroads into the vernacular media flock, cultivating friendships with journalists and editors working in Goa’s Marathi newspapers. It is only fair to say some of these friendships lasted a lifetime, while many wilted away when he became the chief minister and the power dynamics of the relationship changed.
One of his early strategies to raise his stock, as well as that of the BJP, in the Marathi newspapers, involved attacking Catholic politicians in the Congress, which was in power at the time.
Criticising the Hindu Bahujan Samaj leaders may have irked his voters from the non-Brahmin communities, which were the masses the BJP had aimed to politically herd early on. The old press room used to serve as a dissemination point for
Parrikar to either openly distribute or quietly slip crucial documents, which had news potential, to journalists. Parrikar was then just an Opposition MLA, while MGP leader Kashinath Jalmi was the Leader of Opposition. Both were dramatis personae when they were in their element in the state assembly. But Parrikar felt that Jalmi, the senior legislator of the two, cramped his style on the floor of the assembly. This was why regular interactions with mediapersons proved to be a strategic platform for Parrikar in his assault on the Opposition.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines