Who Understands Modi?

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The following article was first published by BW Businessworld.

Many in the media would have us believe that Prime Minister Modi is fast losing his popularity and difficult days lie ahead for him

When someone assumes colossal power, many rally towards the person with expectations. These expectations can either be in cash or in kind. When expectations don’t materialise, this results in resentment and, when handled without tact, leads to jealousy. From jealousy, it immediately results in defamation, followed by vicious campaigns.

In business, a successful leader is someone who is able to hold on to his position despite resentment, yet deliver results (read profits). In politics, however, it’s not so easy to define. In Goan politics, there was a time when Manohar Prabhu Parrikar, current defence minister, then chief minister, discreetly diluted his own cabinet and the assembly in order to fend off a party rebellion. In the elections that followed, he lost, but then regained power and surged ahead as a pan Goan leader. He’s by far the most popular leader in Goa after the state’s first chief minister, the late Dayandand Bandodkar.

Victory is an assumption. Assumptions stand on the bedrock of presumptions. How you define victory is the cornerstone that primarily determines a leader’s future.

Many in the media would have us believe that Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi is fast losing his popularity and difficult days lie ahead for him. But when was his path free of hurdles and roadblocks? While some may attribute his first tenure as Gujarat chief minister to a change in his “astrological stars”, all his successive victories have been purely on the basis of his extraordinary leadership skills and hard work.

Until two years ago, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power, it was an open secret that “Madam” Sonia Gandhi was the de-facto ruler of this country. Her confidants, who she pleased so she could seek favours in return, were also well known. These names are being exposed through the cases of corruption that are now being brought to the fore slowly, but steadily. It was clear that Manmohan Singh, although a well-educated and good-intentioned man, became a toothless, gutless man who succumbed to the vanity of holding the chair and did things he’d never done before.

Today, after almost two years in office, it is still a matter of speculation to determine who Modi trusts or distrusts. While Amit Shah has his confidence, it’s clear that he’s not one who’d trust anyone more than necessity dictates. The finance minister, Arun Jaitley – probably the last standing Lutyen, can feel the tectonic shift beneath his feet. His position, which was considered ‘rock solid’ a few months ago, is no longer secure. If the grapevine is to be believed, a cabinet reshuffle is on the cards. If this is true, it’s obvious that non-performers are vulnerable and could be given the boot.

The media, which is currently predicting ‘dark days’ for Modi, had written him off after Arvind Kejriwal’s triumphant victory in Delhi, and post Nitish Kumar’s elevation as the chief minister of Bihar. But if you have observed carefully, post their respective victories, these leaders have been limited to their state constituencies.

Kejriwal’s best efforts to turn into a national leader, as well as give his party a national presence, have been futile. With the Congress on its death bed, Modi does not have a competitor. Post elections in both states, all political pundits had suggested that the reason for Modi’s defeat was lack of “sound political strategy”. Could this be intentional? Whatever the answer, things have actually worked in Modi’s favour. Should he continue to enjoy his good health and continue doing a good job, he will surely come to power for another term.

Modi’s opponents are aware of this. And since it is hard to see one’s opponent prospering, they are trying hard to find a fitting opponent. But alas they’ve had two failed attempts at this; first with Hardik Patel and, lately, with Kanhaiya Kumar. Both are well on their way to the dustbins of history.

I’m not saying that Modi’s path is clear. He’s got a lot to do before he can fulfil his electoral promises. Uplifting the economy should be his topmost priority. Paths of life are never simple; life’s never a fair game. But then here’s a leader who’s never complaining. He’s cautious with his words, steady in his efforts and relentless in his pursuits. There’s just one yardstick by which he clearly assesses people – performance. In politics, character doesn’t matter much; performing to your fullest could be life-changing for a populace. In politics, it’s a well accepted norm that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”.

The India media, print and digital, is going through a difficult phase. Revenues are dwindling and profits are eroding. Unable to balance their financial performance, it’s a tough time for the media. In such circumstances, proprietors are forced to make desperate efforts to enhance their revenues as well profits. Media conglomerates are in murky waters; they are defaulting on their loan payments. This is eclipsing the media’s ability to think straight. In an effort to make profits out of sensationalist journalism, they are stooping to low standards.

Narendrabhai Modi is a statesman who has played his cards relatively, if not absolutely, well. His resilience is well tested, but his ability to deliver on his vital electoral promises is yet to be seen. He still deserves our patience. I hope that he will be able to deliver, and well. For he’s the best this nation has had in a long time.

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