GhoseSpot | After 20 years Narendra Modi deserves a ‘balanced scorecard’ – Firstpost

May 15, 2022
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No matter at which end of the spectrum one stands, it cannot be denied that Narendra Modi is a phenomenon
After a productive Denmark visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emplanes for Paris. Image courtesy Twitter handle of @PMOIndia
Narendra Modi, as we all know, evokes extreme responses. So, we have either trenchant critics or unabashed admirers who the former have pejoratively termed “Bhakts”. The writer would like to believe that he falls somewhere in between the two poles. But it doesn’t really matter where he is placed by the readers. Like all opinion pieces, the standard condition to put salt as per taste applies.
Two developments of this week were the trigger for this column. The first is the release of a book Modi@20. It is a collection of articles by 21 eminent persons on Narendra Modi completing 20 years in public office — first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and then as Prime Minister for the last eight years. The authors have seen Narendra Modi work from close quarters — as colleagues, associates or as professionals who had the opportunity of interacting with him. All of them are domain experts and bring to the table their personal observations on Modi’s traits, competencies, and style of functioning. As is to be expected, the pieces border on hagiography. Yet they provide insights that can be gleaned by a discerning audience.
Image courtesy amazon.in
The other is a cover story by The Economist magazine, which has been consistently critical of Modi going to the extent of advising against his election. As per some reports, the editor and senior staffer of the newspaper (as it calls itself) were in India sometime back and had sought meetings with the prime minister and the finance minister, which were declined. Hence, the report must be a product of inputs from their research desk, local bureau, and other interviews they would have, presumably, conducted. This writer for one believes India does not need the endorsement of foreign media on its internal affairs especially issues of governance. But what makes the story remarkable is — probably for the first time in 20 years — The Economist had something positive to say about Modi, albeit grudgingly and riders attached. While giving him some credit for the achievements of the past few years, especially during the period of COVID-19, the magazine makes it sound as if those happened despite Narendra Modi — saying “chance played a big role” as did the “steady accumulation of piecemeal reform over many governments”.
As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But the difficulty lies in finding that sweet spot. But after 20 years, it cannot be said that the jury is still out on Narendra Modi. After such a long stint at the helm of affairs he certainly deserves an objective assessment. Of course, posterity will pronounce the final verdict, but for now, there should be an interim report card.
No matter at which end of the spectrum one stands, it cannot be denied that Modi is a phenomenon. One may be sceptical about stories of his being a tea seller but that does not change the fact of his coming from humble roots. Questions may have been raised about his academic credentials. If the doubts are true, his subsequent achievements would appear even more incredible. After spending the first fifty years of life in obscurity, his rise thereafter has been nothing short of a miracle. While it may be tempting to attribute his successes to luck and circumstances, a person cannot sustain his position at the peak for more than two decades without some innate qualities. Therefore, instead of dismissing or disparaging those qualities it may be instructive to study those attributes even for academic interest.
Modi has often been compared to a corporate CEO. There is some merit in that analogy. That is an element which comes through most of the chapters of the anthology and even more so from the comments of some practising Corporate Leaders like Nandan Nilekani and Anand Mahindra. But, we are running ahead of the story.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets members of the Indian community as he concludes his address to them at Theater at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany. ANI

No leader is perfect. Everyone has her/his share of flaws. Equally, none are infallible. They have their share of mistakes throughout life. While luck plays an important role — most of them do not get everything on a platter. Struggle preceded success and are almost always followed by setbacks. How a person navigates through these challenges, maximises on their strengths, work around weaknesses, and manages out of crises differentiates the ordinary from the great. Modi is no different. He too is human. But if he has come such a long way starting literally from scratch there must be something out of the ordinary in him. And those traits cannot be superficial. If they were only skin deep, it would have been exposed long ago.
It is these elements that call for exploration. Determination, self-confidence, discipline, and personal mastery can be taken as given. But for growth, a person must be willing to learn, which calls for a high degree of humility. It also requires the ability to listen. Those observing Modi from a distance often tend to get these aspects wrong about him. Reading some of the accounts in the Modi@20 book would reveal how perceptions can be off the mark.
The ability to grasp the big picture while not losing an eye for detail is another cliché used for leaders — just as ‘vision’. One cannot be charismatic without being inspirational. To develop people-connect one must be inherently empathetic. You cannot fake it beyond a point. Not giving Modi credit on any of these scores would call for loads of prejudice.
There is an apocryphal story of Indira Gandhi telling one of her new ministers, to enter politics you don’t need a new wardrobe but a thick skin. Modi may have committed a gaffe with his monogrammed suit, but he has the superhuman ability to withstand detractors. Without putting them on the same pedestal or exaggerating, the only other person I can think of who withstood such a humongous volume of hate and venom is his namesake Narendranath Dutta — aka Swami Vivekananda. People may snigger at the comparison. However, being a long-time follower of Vivekananda, it is quite likely that Modi may have imbibed some of his spirit of inner resilience.
Surely, there must be areas in which Modi does not score high as a leader. These could be interpersonal relationships, collaborative work style or willingness to delegate. Obviously, these aspects would not have been touched upon in eulogistic essays. But a leader is gifted with a high level of self-awareness to be able to work around weaknesses while leveraging on strengths. Modi must be doing that too.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Community Reception, in Copenhagen, Denmark. ANI
Every leader inherits a job in a certain set of circumstances with its own complexities, challenges, opportunities, and legacies both positive and negative. Where she leaves the organisation determines her success. It is not as if the successor lands in a bed of roses. Nothing is an unmixed blessing. She/he will have new issues to deal with. The errors or follies of the predecessor may surface only after a time. But that comes with the job and is part of the deal.
How Modi will be remembered in the years to come is not for us to decide now. For the moment he deserves a “balanced scorecard” — which may not have all ticks but not just crosses either.
The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal.
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