Manohar Parrikar I was lucky to know

Our first conversation began with a misunderstanding. In January 2015, I was in Baroda when an ‘unknown’ number flashed on my mobile. Thinking it was a friend from abroad whose number normally doesn’t show up, I greeted him exuberantly expecting a similar response. Instead, the voice on the other end said, ‘This is Manohar.’ Puzzled, I rather curtly replied: ‘Who Manohar?’ ‘Parrikar,’ the caller added. The penny dropped.

It was India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. He had personally called. From his own mobile. No PA, no exchange, nobody holding the line. He had simply dialed directly. ‘I want to meet you,’ he said in a matter of fact tone after I had apologised for being slightly rude in my initial reaction. ‘Don’t say sorry. We have never spoken before and my number doesn’t flash. How would you know who is calling,’ Parrikar pointed out and immediately put me at ease. I told him I was away and would return to Delhi in the next couple of days. ‘Done. Let’s have lunch on Sunday. I am staying in Kota House. Please come there around 1230,’ Parrikar told me. My next question was, ‘who should I be in touch with?’ ‘No one. You call me. Please note my number.’ And just like that, my short but memorable association with Manohar Parrikar begun. 

I was puzzled and to be honest, also flattered that India’s defence minister wanted to meet me. I was intrigued because at that point in time, I was at a loose end having left NDTV in December 2014. I was not an important Editor or an influential journalist, yet he wanted to meet me. ‘What could he possibly want from me,’ I kept thinking over the next two days since Parrikar had not mentioned any agenda or subject for our meeting. 
Hours before going to Kota House (the Naval facility where he was staying since a Lutyen zone bungalow was yet to be allotted to Parrikar), I banged out a one-page suggestion sheet in bullet points, highlighting what I thought were key issues in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). 

At Kota House, I was ushered in straight into his suite. A smiling Parrikar, dressed as usual in his trademark open bush shirt and trousers, instantly put me at ease. I had heard many good things about his simplicity, his open approach. In fact, my friend Tejas Mehta, who was then the Mumbai bureau chief of NDTV had specifically asked me to meet Parrikar in November 2014 when he took over as Defence Minister, mentioning that he was very approachable. However, I had no real reason to meet the new defence minster since I was quitting full-time journalism around the same time. All this came back to my mind in a flash as we sat down.

After a moment of awkward silence on my part, I tentatively offered him the one-page sheet I had typed out. After spending two-three minutes reading it, Parrikar said, ‘good suggestions. And I am already working on some of them. But tell me, why does the MoD function on a principle of mistrust?’ Taken aback at the rather direct remark, I asked asked him to elaborate. ‘In these two-three months that I have been here, the most striking aspect I noticed is the all-pervasive atmosphere of suspicion. Everyone is looking over his or her own shoulders. There is very little coordination; the overwhelming tendency is to first say no to everything,’ a visibly agitated Parrikar explained. 

I was astonished at how quickly a newcomer like him (no previous experience at the Centre) had gauged the work culture in South Block. ‘It has been like this for decades,’ I concurred. What can be done to improve the system,’ was Parrikar’s next question. ‘Well, there are no ready made solutions,’ I added. 

‘There has to be a solution! I think the key is in getting everyone to sit down and evolve a fresh approach. I will call you again to discuss something that I have in mind,’ he said ‘but let’s not keep the fish waiting, gesturing towards the dining table. That’s where I first got a glimpse of his legendary love for fish. As we finished lunch, another point I noted was the ease with which he interacted with his personal staff. Upendra Joshi and Mayuresh Khanvate were among the two most trusted of his personal staff. They also ate with us, sitting on the same dining table. Later I knew why. When he trusted a person, he trusted him or her fully. No half measures.

As weeks went by, we met more frequently—always at his initiative—since I had insisted that I will meet him only when he wanted. Gradually, his calls started coming daily. He was hungry for new information, fresh insights. I provided whatever I could with my limited knowledge.

One day, Parrikar said he wanted to revise the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Give me some names of experts who can revise, rewrite and simplify the procedures, he told me. So I suggested half a dozen names. He chose four of them for the committee that eventually wrote the DPP 2016. It had many revolutionary ideas and Parrikar’s stamp was very clearly visible. He overcame stiff opposition from within to introduce a new category for procurement in the MoD called IDDM–Indigenously designed, developed and manufactured–products giving them top priority in acquisition. I dare say that the improved transparency in the MoD and the willingness of top officials to meet and explore collaborations is the lasting legacy Parrikar has left behind in the South Block.

As months went by, he started calling me home at 10 Akbar Road. Sometime early morning at 7, many a times after 10 pm, after he had finished with his official work. At night, he would inevitably share a beer (Bira had become his favourite) and ruminate, bounce off ideas and sometimes express his frustration about the obstacles he faced in the system. So much so that even when I went off to Honolulu for the 40-day Advanced Security Cooperation Course at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in September-October 2015, he would occasionally call from his staff’s Whatsapp number just to chat.
By middle of 2015, he had understood what could work in the murky world of defence, and what could not. However, he was never comfortable in Delhi’s culture of sycophancy. His bungalow was open to everyone but fixers and influencers.  So I had to be doubly careful since word had spread about my unrestricted access to India’s defence minister. I must have blocked at least 14-15 numbers in the period that Parrikar was in Delhi because people of dubious credentials wanted to use my closeness to him. I would inevitably tell him about who I had blocked. He would smile and say, ‘good!’
In November 2015, I launched I wanted to begin with a detailed interview with India’s defence minister. But somehow, he couldn’t find time to sit for an hour or more. When I started breathing down his neck as the deadline neared, he said come to Goa. ‘We will fly back together. That way we will get two uninterrupted hours.’ So one fine day, we boarded his official Embraer from Dabolim airport. For the next two hours, I recorded a freewheeling chat with him. The result: his most detailed interview ever ( In fact, it was so detailed that most of what he said translated into policy one by one as months went by. The most astonishing aspect of that two-hour plane journey from Goa to Delhi was the fact that he never referred to a single piece of paper. Everything was on his fingertips. His phenomenal memory and eye for detail was clearly evident during that interaction.
Parrikar was also a voracious reader. One day—I think after he returned from his maiden trip to the US—he handed to me a book and said, ‘read this if you haven’t.’ It was titled Victory on the Potomac by a Pentagon insider detailing the battles that were won and lost in the American political arena before the Goldwater-Nicholos Act was promulgated. ‘Give me your opinion on what could we borrow from here for India,’ he told me, signalling the intent for creating jointness and integration of the three services. On another day, he fished out Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War and revealed, ‘it is useful for me to follow some of the tips in this book for my own journey in politics. You should also read it.’ Both those books are still with me. In fact, the day he vacated his bungalow, he carted all his books to Goa Sadan and three weeks later asked me to pick and choose what I wanted to take home. I brought home about 60-65 books. Now they will remind me of him, each time I pick up any one of them to read or refer to.
I was always curious about his journey from IIT Bombay to politics. He narrated a very revealing anecdote about how it all began but suffice it to say once he decided to take the plunge, he was a natural. Parrikar knew how to extract the best out of a diverse set of people. He was loved, respected and followed blindly but Goans for over two decades. He had his faults of course. For one, he hated to decentralise or delegate. Calling him control freak would be an exaggeration but because he was a perfectionist, Parrikar preferred to do most of the work himself. He also therefore, did not or could not groom second rung political leadership in Goa. He could also be very acerbic when he wanted. Parrikar carried the zeal that had made him such an adored leader in his own state to Delhi but the workload in the MoD was enormous. So he would invariably wake up at 4 am and not sleep until 11 pm. The punishing routine and the fact that he worked all seven days a week (five days in Delhi and two days in Goa), took its toll. He was practically running the MoD and the state of Goa simultaneously.
When in Delhi, he would miss the informal Goan way of life. He had to behave formally as defence minister most of the time. But when Parrikar felt he had to unwind, he would suddenly call and ask if I was in Delhi and free. If I said yes, he would ask me to request my wife to cook simple, home- made fish curry and rice and tell me to keep a couple of bottles of beer in the refrigerator before he arrived. For the next 90 minutes or so, India’s defence minister used to regale us with anecdotes from his personal life in his typical witty style, forgetting all the burden that he carried on his shoulders. We in the family too developed such a close bond with him that none of us felt he was an outsider. For us, it became an accepted fact that Parrikar would drop in at home without much notice. Now, looking back, we have suddenly realised that we don’t even have a single photo with him in our house although I have many snaps with him in public functions.
As I write this, my eyes well up and thousands of memories come flooding back. I am an emotional jumble at the moment but even when I look back after some months, I am sure I will feel the same way about Parrikar—Bhai to everyone in Goa, but like an elder brother to me in the two years that I got to know him so closely in Delhi. To say we will miss him is to state the obvious but for me the bigger loss is for India as a nation. You went too soon Manohar Parrikar. Travel well my friend. You will remain an inspiration for life. The biggest lesson I draw from your life is to remain humble, no matter what heights you reach.


  1. March 18, 2019 -

    It's amazing to read about the man who in my view was the most effective defence minister, India ever had. May his aatma achieve sadgati. On Shanti.

  2. March 18, 2019 -

    Sad we have lost an honest, sincere and upright man in the prime of his life. He tried his best to get a good deal for the armed forces as regards OROP but was short changed by AJ. Nitin you are doing a great job by representing the Services view point in various fora. God bless Manohar Parrikar.

  3. March 18, 2019 -

    He indeed made his share of contribution to India for which the country will stay eternally grateful. May his soul rest in peace

  4. March 18, 2019 -

    After reading ur article I feel even more sad that India has lost such a leader who had so much more to offer. Tragedy for our country. Om Shanti Parrikarji

  5. March 18, 2019 -

    After reading I feel even more sad that India lost such a leader too soon. He had so much more to offer Om Shanti Parrikarji

  6. March 18, 2019 -

    Great captivating TRIBUTE I would say.

  7. March 18, 2019 -

    I didn't want your bolg to end.

  8. March 18, 2019 -

    Great humble human.

  9. March 18, 2019 -

    Very touchy blog.What a huge still grounded person he was! As you have spent discussing future of Indian armed forces with him and have seen many of your suggestions being implemented by him, it's truly your person loss as well a great loss to the nation. Thanks for sharing.May his soul get Sadgati 🙏

  10. March 18, 2019 -

    Beautifully written, Nitin. I had just one chance to meet Parrikar ji in South Block and i have detailed that out on my FB last night. Few men make their impressions that stand the test of time. Manohar ji was one.

  11. March 18, 2019 -

    an excellent tribute.

  12. March 18, 2019 -

    What a heart-warming write-up. Just the kind of shraddhanjali such a great, yet humble, soul deserves!

  13. March 18, 2019 -

    You are lucky to vzve known him so closely.The moment I read the 60-65 books part my eyes were in tears too. I have never met him and knowing him through this article makes me miss him even badly.Thabkfor sharing this side of him Nitin Sir. God boess him.

  14. March 18, 2019 -

    Huge fan of Mr Parrikar and I always read Nitin's columns and books and never miss his comments. Excellent tribute to a great man above all else the humility part.

  15. March 18, 2019 -

    Sir Nitin ji it is really nice to read that you met and got yourself associated with a person who was not only a dedicated politician but also a great human are really lucky sir and after reading to your blog I can say that our nation has lost a great leader RIP Manohar sir u will remain an inspiration for us

  16. March 18, 2019 -

    One of the most heartfelt condolences one has read. You made me cry.

  17. March 18, 2019 -

    Thanks for portraying multi faceted personality in so simple way. India will miss you Manohar Parrikar.

  18. March 19, 2019 -

    Sir envy the fact that you had an opportunity to interact and work with Parrikarji so closely. If a commoner like me who has never met him can feel remorse and void,can only imagine how you may feel.

  19. March 19, 2019 -

    Hello Nitin, you've captured the essence of the man beautifully – his impeccable character.Lt. Col. Sumant Khare

  20. March 19, 2019 -

    A most befitting and worthy tribute to a unique personality whose outstanding intellectual and professional qualities were augmented by his amazing humility, humanity and patriotism.

  21. March 19, 2019 -

    I feel very sorry for respected Parrikar sir demise.The nation needs his like people to serve the nation.Everyone can get an inspiration to serve our society, nation.We will always remember him for his good services to the country.A wise and nationalist one can keep Sri Parrikar Sir as Role model for himself.May his soul rest in peace and may God bless us , giving him rebirth in our own country, Bharat.

  22. March 19, 2019 -

    Beautifully written… Can really salute enough the humility of Mr. Parrikar.

  23. March 19, 2019 -

    Nicely written! A gem of a person, indeed! I was fortunate to know him since his IIT days, as we were in the same Hostel.-Shyam Thosar

  24. March 19, 2019 -

    Manohar's sad demise is indeed a great loss for all of us. He was in touch with people from all walks of life. And this piece gives a good understanding and insight about a gentleman whom we seemed to known for years. Very well written!!!

  25. March 19, 2019 -

    Wish we write good things about the people we like or admire whike they are alive..I am sure it will give them lots of happinness…I never knew much of him and now it's too late..but I am sure he can see my salute to him..wish they make more like him🙏🙏

  26. March 19, 2019 -

    Well said. Manohar Ji was very conscious of his responsibilities to the nation that he always wanted to deliver efficiently. He grew up in RSS and his nationalism was very deep. An honest RSS worker always keeps people's or nation's interest about all other interests.

  27. March 19, 2019 -

    Wonderful tribute to a great man sir. Thank you for that

  28. March 20, 2019 -

    Exceedingly well written article. Gives a glimpse of what India as a nation will miss out on going forward. IndiaI is so terribly infested by indiscipline at every level, Parrikar should have been active for at least a decade longer to try and straighten things. Now that he is gone, I worry about my country.

  29. March 20, 2019 -

    INDIA HAS LOST A GREAT DEFENCE MINISTER..ITS A TREMENDOUS LOSS FIR YEARS TO COME.ह्या देशाची शोकांतीका आहे.बे टाइम आपण असे हीरे गमावून जातो.

  30. March 20, 2019 -

    Beautifully expressed. India really needs Leaders like him. Thank you for the insight.

  31. March 21, 2019 -

    I can understand that feeling. I knew it will come to this. But there was an undying hope that he will live. His departure has created a void that cannot be filled. I held him atop as my role model. Now it looks just empty.

  32. March 26, 2019 -

    Sounds like my kind of man. Both of you. Much good can be achieved in this land of immeasurable talent if the right voices are allowed to speak, to write, to work their magic.Unfortunately, corridors of power in Delhi/MoD has a culture totally contrary to that. Here's hoping that will change. More power to you, Nitin. Parrikar is gone. Lot of work remains to be done.Please visit me @ we can work out the rest.