It was sometime in 2001. At a gathering hosted by Gomantak, the leading newspaper in Goa, I was explaining to someone the 100-year scenarios of urbanisation of Goa. These scenarios were the result of the Goa 2101 model that I had built. I had no idea someone was eavesdropping on the conversation, perhaps because of my passionate expression, or else because it was just more than a bit crazy to talk about 100 years in future when no one talked of even 100 days. Least of all did I know, that that someone was the then chief minister (CM) of Goa, Manohar Parrikar.
Later, I learnt that Manoharbhai had discovered that I was the same person who had conducted a study and had refused to modify the findings to support an infrastructure project for multi-level parking at Junta house in Panjim being proposed by Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) and Goa State Infrastructure Development Corp Ltd (GSIDC).
A week later, I got a call from the CM's office saying that the CM would like to talk to me. A few seconds later, Manoharbhai was on the line. Without beating around the bush, he said the Goa government had an infotech corporation and he wanted to appoint a vice-chairman to put it on track. He wanted me to accept the position. I asked what it would mean.
He said we would discuss when we met, he just wanted my assent. The next day it was notified that I would be the vice-chairman of the corporation.
After about two months, Mr Parrikar realised that my inputs had provided him with the ability to save more than 25% of the government’s expenditure on e-governance and also with a plan to create employment for over 10,000 IT engineers. He recognised that this value-add to the taxpayers had come without any compensation for my time and effort as the Company Act did not provide for compensating non-executive directors except by way of a small sitting fee, which was generally never paid. He recognised that the value of my contributions was beyond the corporation to advising the government on governance and IT.
He initiated the procedure to appoint me as an adviser on governance and IT amidst much opposition from the bureaucracy. It took a whole year before he succeeded; I still remember him being apologetic as he sought my advice even though I had not been compensated by the government for this extraordinarily long time.
He followed the practice of reading every relevant paper in every file that passed his desk. He had to ensure none of the taxpayer’s money was being wasted or stolen. So invariably, his schedule would overshoot. He used to call me to brief him at 7pm, but I usually had to wait till he finished his files for all the departments.
Sometimes he would take an hour in between to diligently coach his son, who was then in class XII. So, invariably, it would be well past 9pm when he would, finally, have time for our appointment.
Even as he was multi-tasking, he not only observed but acknowledged that I had spent most of the time reading, not just sitting around. I still remember his humility when he would ask me to explain what e-governance is and how it can help the state.
Often, our conversations would run close to midnight. Usually, he would have let his driver go home long before that. I lived in Alto de Porvorim, half way between Mapusa, where he lived in his family house, and Altino the official residence where he operated from in Panjim. He would often request if I could drop him home.
Sometimes, if we had unfinished conversations, he would request me to come to his family home at 7am. His sister-in-law would open the door and go to get milk from the milk stall while Manoharbhai would get up from the divan in the living room and ask me to wait.
Manoharbhai initiated many path-breaking initiatives in e-governance, way before the rest of the world even thought about it. He encouraged my initiative to invite every department head to articulate the mission of their departments and use IT to enable the mission instead of merely automating procedures. He ensured that I would have the best bureaucrat as my IT secretary to ensure procedures would not block the innovations that would put the state’s governance ahead.
He supported the move to consolidate government's IT initiatives so that citizens would not be asked to provide information and certificates that the government itself had issued to the citizens. He supported the initiatives to explore building a cooperative of IT engineers along with the engineering colleges and the IT industry.
In order to promote an IT culture and provide opportunities to Goan youth, he launched a programme to give every higher secondary student a free personal computer (PC). We ensured every student had access to not only Microsoft Office but also visual studio and, later, even Linux machines with open source technologies.
He wanted to create educational content servers that could deliver educational content to students and we even explored innovative technologies including transmitting information over power lines in order to overcome the last-mile reach to students in villages.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) policies on leased line access disadvantaged IT companies in Goa over Mumbai and Pune. With Manoharbhai's help, I could reach out to the then IT minister Arun Shourie. With his help and that of the then TRAI chairman, Pradeep Baijal, we accomplished parity with other cities. Against all odds, with Manoharbhai's support, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for Zenta and then Wipro to set up 10,000-seater centres in Goa.
Goa was chosen as the best governed small state by the Planning Commission and in an independent survey by India Today.
Sometimes, I travelled with Manoharbhai to Delhi or Mumbai for meetings. Once he arrived at the Mumbai airport in an auto-rickshaw. The security could not believe he was the CM of Goa. Once we travelled back from Mumbai by the early morning flight. Manoharbhai carried his own bag and refused to let anyone else carry it for him.
When we landed in Goa in the early hours, he asked if we could inspect the construction underway for the international film festival before going home. He thought he could get to see if the contractor was delivering as promised if he made an early morning round before everyone turned up.
Once he drove his new car late at night over the Mandovi Bridge to his home in Mapusa. The constable on duty at the bridge did not recognise him and stopped him to check his licence. Even after seeing his licence the constable told him his car had a temporary registration and he should have a permanent one before driving it around. Manoharbhai nodded without identifying himself and went home. The next day, he found out who was on duty and promoted him for doing his job well.
Once Manoharbhai wanted me to entertain a guest he was unable to meet. He asked me to give him the bill so it could be reimbursed. The guest had ordered beverage. I had no idea that beverage could not be reimbursed.
Without even mentioning my ignorance, Manoharbhai paid from his own pocket so that I would not be out of pocket.
Goa had hosted a conference of TIE International where hundreds of IT entrepreneurs and venture capitalists gathered. Manoharbhai had to address them before dinner. In his speech, Manoharbhai narrated a story from Chandamama about a king who lost everything when he lost his character as he pursued wealth and power. He urged the importance of character over wealth.
Manoharbhai tested everyone and every decision against the yardstick of character, integrity and conflict of interest. He would explain whenever people asked for compensation in multiple roles why compensation can only come from one role. He emphasised and expected high standards of everyone holding public office.
Months after his coalition government lost power amid defections, I left Goa to join my family in the US. Manoharbhai was now the leader of the Opposition.
Whenever I visited Goa, he would take me out to lunch. On one such occasion, I had floated the idea that he should set up a school to create leaders in every sector.
I explained that leaders should be people who recognise and act in public interest.
Leaders should commit themselves to the lifetimes of children born today, not merely from election to election in partisan and private interests. I had touched a raw nerve. He had tears in his eyes. He said that was indeed, the need of the hour and had wished he could implement the idea. It was not the only time I saw him disillusioned with politics.
On another such occasion, he shared his frustrations with politics. He wanted to renounce politics. It was perhaps his disillusionment with the lack of true leaders that kept him from doing so.
I happened to visit Goa when the Panjim government was preparing proposals for the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) projects. He took me to a meeting to have me explain why the JNNURM approach was wrong.
Manoharbhai rarely spoke in public about his disgust of politicians, their methods and hunger for power. Sometimes, in a rare moment, he would express sadness at the helplessness to change the vicious cycle of greed for power and money. His eyes always lit up when he talked about education. He felt that was the only way we would be able to transform society.
Later, when I returned to Pune, we saw less of each other. When Manoharbhai became the defence minister he used to visit Pune often. Once I had requested him to address my students to tell them about the importance of character in governance. He spent over an hour chatting informally with my students. He preferred to answer questions, not sermonise. He said action should speak more than his words.
It is unlikely that it is a coincidence that he later ceased to be the defence minister and returned to where he felt he could walk with his conscience. He has left behind for his followers his dream of using education to create leaders and a better society.
Manoharbhai could not rest till he made a difference. He was a karma yogi. It is no accident that he worked till his last breath.
He has left an example of simplicity, dedication and walking the talk that will for long be the standard to distinguish leaders from politicians who represent partisan interests. May he find peace in leaving behind his actions as an example for others.
(Dr Anupam Saraph is a Professor, Future Designer, former governance and IT advisor to Goa’s former chief minister Manohar Parrikar and the Global Agenda Councils of the World Economic Forum. He has designed delivery channels and ID schemes for good governance in his previous roles.)