India needs the entire cabinet to perform at peak potential Modi to continue to enjoy people’s unflinching confidence.
I had written an article titled, “No Achhe Din, Yet Modi’s Popularity Is Rising; Why?” in PGurus. I concluded saying, “…some don’t see ache din on the horizon, but a majority believe their lives have improved vastly and hope still better days are ahead; people didn’t expect more in 3 years.” Sure enough, people’s yardsticks are likely to be more stringent in 2019 elections.
There are mainly two camps in Indian politics: doomsayers who claim that the economy is headed southwards and nothing looks right (especially employment scenario), and soothsayers who claim that the slide is just temporary teething trouble, due to much-needed demonetisation and GST, and soon the economy will be well on its feet; they say one also has to reckon the structural weaknesses in the economy inherited by Modi (mainly ‘twin balance sheet problems’). Time will tell which camp is right.
Two things going for Modi are (i) people’s continued support thus far, and (ii) uninspiring opposition parties and leaders. But Modi may need a turnaround in the economy for a substantial majority in 2019 (like in 2014); otherwise, he may then not be able to accomplish much in the next 5 years with a marginal majority. So, Modi should go all out for as massive a majority as possible, which means he needs to improve the economy substantially in the next one year.
The widely held perception about Modi’s style of leadership is that he is a centralised decision-maker concerning all ministries.
Broadly speaking, ‘right strokes for the right folks’ (delegation, coaching and directing depending on the competence, commitment, and experience of the employee) is the right leadership model, be it Government or any kind of organization. But very few PMs (if at all) have done a reasonable balance of managing their teams like this. In the UPA regime, it was almost laissez-faire (‘free for all’) style, which resulted in rampant, unbridled corruption, leading to media exposes and policy paralysis.
The widely held perception about Modi’s style of leadership is that he is a centralized decision-maker concerning all ministries, there is hardly any delegation, and he rarely listens to the views of experts outside the Government. But he is known to listen keenly to his chosen group of advisors before taking his decisions. Modi probably has Lee Kuan Yew as his role model. While this style may keep corruption under check, it will substantially produce sub-optimal results. It won’t help develop self-esteem in the ministers.
Most people believe this is his basic style of functioning, and yet he has probably produced reasonably good results. In my article titled, “No Achhe Din, Yet Modi’s Popularity Is Rising; Why?”, I have listed Modi Government’s successes and shortcomings so far.
Since Modi hasn’t made a conscious effort to let the nation understand his way of working well enough, people go mostly by hearsay. His communication to the people is mostly direct, one way, through his speeches on various Government and party platforms, and his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programs. And he uses the communication opportunities to counter-select criticisms, not all. While his online grievance redressal systems seem to mitigate the sufferings of people, how effective platforms like eGov, Local Circles, etc are in tapping people’s suggestions for improving governance (beyond cosmetic levels) is unclear.
Modi’s own seniors in BJP like Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie question the direction of the economy; all criticism is directed against Modi personally (and Arun Jaitley), not so much against the rest of his Government because Modi is seen as the Government. In contrast, the criticism against the ministers in last UPA cabinet was that Dr. Singh was not controlling his ministers; he was the NPA.
Modi’s style of functioning as CM in Gujarat may have worked well because it was just one state, his home state, already well-performing & entrepreneurially oriented
Do senior ministers enjoy his full confidence and have the freedom to decide on issues relating to their ministries, under his broad guidance? It does appear so; one may agree with their decisions or not, but Rajnath Singh, Manohar Parrikkar (when he was at the Centre), Nitin Gadkari, Dharmendra Pradhan,… have all been handling their ministries unhindered. But is Modi preparing them for taking on bigger roles over time? Perhaps not.
How about the junior ministers? Is he coaching them (given that the bench strength of NDA is not very good since it has not been in power for long)? Looks unlikely, from outside. Are they performing? We don’t know. But overall, Modi Government has had hits and misses.
Modi’s style of functioning as CM in Gujarat may have worked well because it was just one state, his home state, already well-performing & entrepreneurially oriented, he could mobilise an excellent bureaucracy team to give shapes to his agenda and implement them well, he hardly had any opposition within the party, he had the solid backing of his voters, etc.
Whereas, as the PM, he is responsible for the performance of 29 states and 7 UTs, his connection to the states is tenuous (though people across states appear to have faith in his leadership), most of the states are poor and are not well-governed, they have either a strong opposition party or the opposition is ruling the state, their entrepreneurial DNA is weak, the quality of bureaucracy at the Centre is not a patch on what he had in Gujarat (his best efforts as PM to galvanise them notwithstanding), the bureaucracies in the states are far worse, his performance as PM substantially depends on the performance of the states, and so on.
He should consider reinventing himself, perhaps with a new leadership style, in which he just sets the broad contours for each minister.
As he prepares for his second term as PM, he needs to accelerate. His intrinsic style of functioning may limit his performance, and give him only sub-optimal results. Though this has been so thus far, its shortcoming is likely to be felt more in future, after a rather long honeymoon period.
So, he should consider reinventing himself, perhaps with a new leadership style, in which he just sets the broad contours for each minister, but delegates to his senior ministers more, coaches his second and third tier ministers substantially and ensures that the team performs an order of magnitude more than now. And he should let the people know he is doing all this.
Sure enough, the delegation could lead to corruption in some cases, but corrupt can be quickly replaced since his position in the party is unassailable; if he doesn’t delegate, neither will his ministers perform adequately, nor will people continue to support Modi blindly. India needs the entire cabinet to perform at peak potential Modi to continue to enjoy people’s unflinching confidence. He should delegate and yet create checks and balances that don’t constrain growth.
Modi should not be lonely at the top.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.