At half-past seven on a balmy November evening in 2012, Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar briskly strode into his office in Porvorim, a suburb in Goa’s capital, Panjim, for an interview with Hindustan Times.
As he personally signed on each of the 50 Diwali greeting cards stacked next to him, officials updated him on ongoing e-initiatives. An elderly widow, who had sought an appointment with him, requested Parrikar to recommend her daughter for a job in place of her deceased husband.
Dressed in a striped maroon shirt, khakis and sandals, Parrikar, 57, is short and of medium build. He exudes a sense of confidence, bordering on arrogance. At the time, Parrikar was eight months into his term as chief minister (CM) after the BJP won with a majority of 21 seats in the 40-member Assembly.
He called for black tea (without sugar), rubbed his hands together, and, in his characteristically no-nonsense manner, got started. How would he rate his achievement so far?"I’m quite satisfied. When there is a lot of money involved, a lot of mudslinging takes place, several rumours are spread, and wrong impressions are put out."
Contradictory impressions about him have been swirling around. Parrikar came to power exactly a year ago on the promise of cleaning up India’s smallest state which is as well known for its sun, sand and surf (22% of the state’s revenues come from the 30 lakh-odd tourists who visit its beaches every year) as the stranglehold that corruption has over it.
‘Because Goa deserves better’ was his slogan. Pulling off that feat, he has found, is a touch harder than putting up the slogan on his Facebook page.
For starters, he has tried to do it all by himself. Having young, inexperienced colleagues in the Cabinet, Parrikar, a two-time former chief minister and metallurgical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, has refused to delegate responsibility.
His ministers call him Bhai (elder brother in Konkani).
“When a minister is approached with an issue or a file, he will invariably say ‘Bhai kade ya (Let’s go to the big brother)’,” said an entrepreneur who didn’t wish to be quoted.
The CM (he was not available for a fresh interview for this story) holds five portfolios, among them the crucial finance, home and mines.
“He even calls for meetings that department secretaries should, bulldozes his ministers and gets upset if he’s criticised,” said a government official on the condition of anonymity.
Criticism has been coming, especially from the industry. A year into his tenure, the promise of a policy to increase investments and generate revenue and jobs is still awaited.
“We need to take a serious look at where the state is heading. If we lose investment opportunities to other states, it will be a great disservice to the next generation,” said Manguirish Pai Raikar, president, Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Goa’s industrial sector comprises less than 1% of the national average.
But the enormity of the task with which Parrikar was confronted when he came to power suggests that it was never going to be easy to set things right overnight. Compared to what he faced when he took over, his successful campaign to bring the International Festival of Films of India to Goa in 2004 was a cakewalk.
The previous Congress government had left the state in shambles. Corruption was rampant at every level of government functioning; the illegal iron ore mining had dealt a body blow to the state; and the administration was in tatters.
Parrikar’s election manifesto was zero tolerance to corruption. He initiated a series of measures to reduce graft: an e-tendering process for all major projects; uploading all information pertaining to mining on the government’s website for mines and geology; and the appointment of a Lokayukta and a direct cash transfer scheme.
“Corruption under the previous regime had reached a point of no return. Parrikar has handed over many cases to the anti-corruption bureau. One cannot blame him for not delivering all his promises swiftly,” said Raikar.
Illegal mining — and the staggering losses it caused the state exchequer — was the biggest challenge he faced. In 2011, the Public Accounts Committee led by Parrikar — who had aggressively taken on the previous Congress government over the issue and used the scam as one of his main election planks — had pegged the loss at Rs. 4,000 crore.
The Parliament-appointed MB Shah Commission of Inquiry put the loss at Rs. 35,000 crore. The Supreme Court has put an interim ban on the operation of 90 mines.
The ban has put a squeeze on revenue. Of the state’s total revenue of Rs. 8700 crore, 20-25% comes from mining. Blaming the previous Congress government for the scam and the resulting mess, the Parikkar-led government has filed an affidavit, asking for the Supreme Court’s stay order to be vacated.
All this is a far cry from his growing up days in Margao in south Goa, and his entry into student politics at the IIT-Bombay. There, he had militated for the hostel mess secretary to be changed because of the abysmal canteen menu. Now, he has a very different battle on his hands. A father of two grown-up sons, Parrikar has been almost running to stand still, his schedule so full that he has little time for his great passion — cricket.
Besides a constant endeavour to keep down corruption levels, Parrikar’s immediate focus will be on the resumption in mining activities. The government is currently working on a financial package for those affected by the mining ban and will introduce a scheme in the next few months.
A call centre concept that will reduce trips to government offices and thereby bring in transparency in the administration is also being worked out.
At the same time, to bring down dependency on mining, the state government has decided to strengthen agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry. Also in the pipeline is a change in the image of tourism and transforming Goa into an education and IT hub.
“There is a strong feeling in Goa that Parrikar will not tolerate inefficiency. The perception index about corruption has also come down. For his personal commitment to transparency and intolerance towards corruption, he should be rated 8/10,” said Prabhakar Timble, a political analyst.
It has been only a year, but it has been a start. In his brusque, outspoken and authoritative style, Parrikar is soldiering on.