India’s former defense minister Manohar Parrikar dies

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Manohar Parrikar attends a seminar during the Vibrant Gujarat investor summit in Gandhinagar, India, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s former defense minister and serving chief minister of the western state of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, died on Sunday (March 17), officials said.

A technocrat turned politician, 63-year-old Parrikar was a senior member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had been suffering from cancer.

“Extremely sorry to hear of the passing of Shri Manohar Parrikar, Chief Minister of Goa, after an illness borne with fortitude and dignity,” Indian President Ramnath Kovind tweeted on Sunday.

Parrikar passed away at his residence in Goa, local news channels reported.

As defence minister, he oversaw the controversial deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation for around $8.7 billion, the country’s first major acquisition of combat planes in two decades.

The deal has been the centre of allegations from India’s main opposition party, Congress, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government paid too much and that it forced Dassault to accept Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as its Indian partner even though the company had no such prior experience in defence contracting.

Dassault has defended the pricing and denied it was forced to pick Reliance as a partner. Ambani has previously said that the Congress party has been misled and misinformed by corporate rivals and vested interests.

“India will be eternally grateful to Shri Manohar Parrikar for his tenure as our Defence Minister … India witnessed a series of decisions that enhanced India’s security capacities, boosted indigenous defence production and bettered the lives of ex-servicemen,” Prime Minister Modi tweeted.

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