Former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar lost a long battle with cancer earlier this month, but he won many hearts by continuing to serve the people till almost the last day of his life.
I did not know him very well, but on a few occasions I had the opportunity to interact with him closely. The memories of these meetings shall forever remain fresh in my mind.
A few days after I had written a rather critical article on the defence budget for the year 2015-16, Parrikar’s secretary rang up to say the Minister wanted to meet me. He met me very warmly in his office and spent almost half an hour listening to my views on the defence budget, defence planning and defence reforms. He also asked some very sharp questions.
I had taken along a list of points for discussion which he discussed and promised to study more closely. I presented a copy of my book “Indian Army: Vision 2020” to the Minister. He said he would read it and then discuss it with me. He asked me if I would be willing to meet him at home on a Sunday when he is relatively freer. He said he would give me good Goan food.
We next met on the sidelines on the India Today Conclave. He apologised for not having been able to invite me home and said wistfully that the Defence Minister’s job was busier than he had thought. With a twinkle in his eye he said he liked a quote by Captain Basil H. Liddell Hart in my book and tried to remember the exact words.
I recalled for him what Liddell Hart had said: ‘There are two thousand years of experience to tell us that the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old idea out.’ We both laughed.
Parrikar consulted widely and took pains to learn. My next meeting with him was at his place. He had invited a few analysts for a wide ranging discussion over dinner. The Minister encouraged us to speak our minds, listened attentively, asked pointed questions and made notes. He did not attempt to lecture to us and was a good host.
When my new book “The New Arthashastra: A Security Strategy for India” was due for release, I sought a meeting with him to invite him to do the honours. He readily agreed. He spoke well and was liberal with his compliments. It was during the Q&A that he dropped the bombshell of the decade.
In answer to an innocuous question that wasn’t even about India’s nuclear doctrine, he said, “I do not believe in ‘no first use’,” but hastened to add that it was a personal view. The media went to town. The Minister’s statement featured in every news telecast that evening and on every front page the next morning. So did our book. His views on the nuclear doctrine are still being discussed in think tanks around the world.
Manohar Parrikar was a good Defence Minister and a kind human being who had endeared himself to the rank and file and the veterans of the armed forces and their families.
(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and former Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi)