Late in 2011, I was travelling with LK Advani along with his entourage during the Jan Chetna Yatra - one of Advani's last-ditch efforts to secure himself as the BJP nominee for the top job of Prime Minister and raise an emotive issue which had held centre stage - corruption and black money. The Congress was in power in Goa, and Manohar Parrikar, who was Leader of the Opposition of the state and its ex Chief Minister, had to play host during the yatra's Goa leg.
By the time I entered the hotel where Advani had decided to take a break, the press conference had concluded and media persons had left the venue. I was escorted to the suite were the patriarch was resting with his daughter Pratibha and his close aides Ravi Shankar Prasad, Venkaiah Naidu and Anant Kumar. Over tea and sandwiches, the leaders chatted about the party, shared jokes, anecdotes about Advani's previous yatras and swapped tips about Goan cuisine. While I waited to be escorted into the suite by one of the leaders, I caught a glimpse of Manohar Parrikar, his hands folded standing outside the door, like a visitor waiting for his turn. It was an embarrassing sight for me as journalist and I was barely able to mumble a "Hello" before stepping into the suite. The door was shut again with Parrikar, one of the veteran leaders in the BJP waiting outside to be given orders.
Parrikar perhaps was as embarrassed with the situation, but the 58-year-old who carries the image of a middle-class hero in Goa, has exacted revenge in the sweetest way possible - by becoming a power player, as Advani's role within the BJP has been virtually extinguished.
Around the time Advani began his yatra, Narendra Modi had already started work on his strategy and ascent to the top.
RSS favorite Manohar Parrikar has been a close friend of Narendra Modi from their days as pracharaks. Parrikar, who is known for patience though he is outspoken, has proved to be a master at playing the political game of waiting his turn.
In 2009, right after the BJP's dismal performance under Advani's leadership, it was Parikkar, an IIT graduate, who stoked rebellion for the first time against the grand old man by calling him "a rancid pickle." In an interview to a daily, Parrikar did not mince words when he stated "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."
Many BJP leaders then insisted that Parrikar's outburst was the result of being prodded by a section of the RSS which had its daggers drawn with Advani and was critical of his Prime Ministerial ambitions. The Sangh had wanted Modi to convey similar thoughts to the media, who felt that it was not time to turn against his mentor.
It is believed that Parrikar, the man who is seen as one of the most efficient Chief Ministers of Goa and managed to curb illegal mining significantly, has been working on Modi's dream plan for the last four years by galvanizing support for him in the state. At the Goa executive session in June 2013 where Modi was made the election in-charge, I remember asking Parrikar what he thought of Modi's prospects, "Wait and watch" he remarked with a smile that had a thousand undertones to it.
A Brahmin by caste, which is a key attribute for any BJP leader to endear himself to the Sangh, Parrikar was one of the first choices for the post of Party President in 2010 which later went to Nitin Gadkari. The Sangh was keen to get a grip on Goa as it was one of its first steps to gain power in Western India and Parrikar was the man for the job, a favorite amongst the sizeable Christian population in the state.
A man who the organization had implicit faith in faced rough weather in Goa, like his contemporary from Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis, when a section of the State BJP loyal to OBC leader Sripad Naik objected to him being placed as the Sangh's representative in the Chief Minister's Office despite being from an upper caste. But the Sangh had taken its decision, and despite rebellion, Parrikar became the Chief Minister of Goa for the third time in 2012.
Although his name was floated in May 2014 as a possible candidate for Defence Minister, internal dynamics for the BJP ensured Parrikar stayed put in Goa.
The RSS was not keen on the candidature of Arun Shourie who was in the running for the same job and hence Jaitley, one of the few politicians Modi could trust, was given the dual responsibility of Defence with Finance. However Jaitley's health concerns and increasingly hostile relations with the PM's confidante Amit Shah have meant that an RSS nominee will be placed in Defence. Suggestions were ripe about RSS spokesperson-turned-BJP leader Ram Madhav lobbying for the job; his editorials on China and Pakistan advised the PM on strategy and he is seen as close to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
But both Shah and Modi felt that the position required a successful leader from the party who could be poached and brought to Delhi. With limited options - the candidate had to be on the PM's list of favorites and seen as adept in matters like domestic defence manufacturing - it was decided that Parrikar fit the bill. He is seen as a politician with integrity and somebody who could be assigned to trying to end the vicious project of arms lobbying in Delhi.
But Parrikar himself perhaps is much aware that the ministry is a crown of thorns. With increasing ceasefire violations across the border by Pakistan and Chinese excursions into theIndian territory , he will have to tread a difficult path. While decisions taken by him will be ghost-monitored by the Prime Minister's trusted NSA and others in the defence coterie, Parrikar will have to shoulder the blame for any mishandling of sensitive situations
Having said that , with his proximity to Modi - Shah and the RSS , this elevation will make him the number three in the government after Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
In an interview in 2013, Parrikar described the 2002 riots in Gujarat as a blot on Modi's career, igniting a huge controversy. He then clarified that he had not meant his comment to serve as an accusation; he said heads of states are made to bear the brunt of the ire of the judiciary and he media.
His demonstrations of loyalty to the PM have earned him a place at the very top in Delhi.
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