Goa may get what Mumbai didn’t when the Bandra-Worli sealink was built: a viewing tower on the lines of the Eiffel Tower in the middle of a new bridge being built over the river Zuari connecting north with south Goa. This was Union Minister for Highways Nitin Gadkari’s promise to Goa at a function to felicitate Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar on his 60th birthday on Sunday evening at Panjim, Goa.
Gadkari said his plans for a viewing tower on the Bandra-Worli sealink were nixed when the Congress came to power in Maharashtra. Showering lavish praise on Parrikar, Gadkari even compared his leadership qualities with Shivaji Maharaj. Union home minister Rajnath Singh also joined Gadkari in showering praise on Parrikar for his initiative to transform the technological capabilities of the Indian armed forces. “He is the first IIT qualified professional to become defence minister, and he is from Goa,” Rajnath said, adding “As long as our government is there and Parrikar is defence minister, nobody dare raise a hand against India.”
The air was festive as Manohar Parrikar received a grand but subdued public felicitation on his 60th birthday. Rajnath Singh presented him with the traditional shawl and ‘sriphal’, while Nitin Gadkari and Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar joined him in garlanding Parrikar.
After the frenzy of anticipation that had been built in the days leading to Sunday’s function, the actual event turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. In the run-up to the felicitation function, there was criticism that the grand bash was being organized when Chennai has been reeling under floods. Opposition leaders questioned the source of the funds for organizing the huge gathering with allegations that people were paid to attend. Around 900 buses transported people from all parts of Goa for the function at the parade grounds in Panjim. Though a buffet-style dinner had been planned for the public, this was cancelled following the criticism. Parrikar was also to be presented with a 60-feet long garland of roses, but that was also scrapped. Instead he was presented with the traditional shawl and citation.
Referring to the criticism of the felicitation function, Parrikar said that the armed forces have been in the forefront of disaster relief not only in Chennai, but also earlier in Nepal and other places. “I don’t need any certification from anybody regarding the disaster relief operations undertaken by the armed forces,” Parrikar said. He also scotched rumours of his impending retirement. “People have been spreading rumours that I’m going to retire from politics. I will not retire until I have finished the job that I have been given and my job is to transform the Indian armed forces,” he said.
Bhai, as he is known, was greeted with a shower of petals on his arrival at Dabolim airport earlier in the day and driven in a motorcade to Panjim with chants of “Manohar-Bhai tum age bado – hum tumhare sath hain”. He arrived at the Campal parade grounds in Panjim at around 4.45 pm, 15 minutes after the scheduled start, while most of the estimated 40,000 chairs were still empty as people from different corners of Goa were yet to reach the venue. But the chairs slowly filled up as Parrikar greeted his former colleagues in the assembly and the Goa BJP brass on the dais, and the leaders made their speeches one by one, eulogizing Parrikar. Nitin Gadkari reached the venue at around 5.30 pm, while Rajnath Singh arrived at 6.10 pm. Singh then presented Parrikar with a shawl and ‘sriphal’ and along with Gadkari and Parsekar, garlanded the defence minister. Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay and BJP spokesperson Shaina NC were also present along with all the Goa BJP and coalition MLAs. The felicitation was organized by the Goa BJP unit. The BJP leads a coalition government in Goa.
The charismatic Parrikar has long been the face of the BJP in Goa, and has been chief minister twice, though on both occasions he did not complete the full term. Although he had lost the very first election he had contested for the Lok Sabha, he won the Panjim assembly seat in 1994. His first government, formed at the turn of the millennium, had been toppled after a group of BJP legislators defected to the Congress. His second stint began in March 2012 when he led the BJP to a simple majority in the 40-member Goa assembly, the first time a single party managed to get a majority in nearly two decades. This he managed with a ‘mahagathbandan’-style coalition of prominent Catholic leaders and regional parties, with the backing of the Catholic church in Goa. This tenure ended in November 2014 when he was inducted into the Central government. He is now a Rajya Sabha member from UP. Though he is credited with being one of the main strategists of the BJP during the last Lok Sabha elections, he had been reluctant to move to the Centre.