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Rediff.com  » News » Shreekant Sambrani: The Modi Model, Demystified!

Shreekant Sambrani: The Modi Model, Demystified!

Last updated on: February 15, 2013 12:23 IST

The Modi Model : Promise. Image. Performance

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People are thirsting for good news. Narendra Modi quenches their thirst in plenty, so they are prepared to forgive his use of hyperbole, says Shreekant Sambrani.

One week is a long time in politics. Even Narendra Modi, the seemingly indefatigable and unstoppable chief minister of Gujarat, will wholeheartedly agree.

The 1-2 knockout punch he delivered last week added sheen to his as-yet unannounced campaign for the office of prime minister.

He began by delivering a blockbuster speech at the Sri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi. Then, there was the careful leak of his meeting with the ambassadors of European Union countries a month ago.

Like a time-release capsule, it had the intended result -- that of establishing international acceptance of both his record in the state and of his emergence as a major national leader.

The airwaves and print media played up these events.

More importantly, Modi appeared to have gained a grudging acceptance among the punditry; call it reluctant, or even resigned in some quarters, but there is no denying that there has been a change in perception.

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Image: Narendra Modi has begun his yet unannounced campaign for the prime minister's chair.
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/ Reuters

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Modi's exhilarating tonic of optimism

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What brought about this change?

There are, in increasing order of importance, three main factors: Promise, image and performance. But the shadow of the past still looms.

The first factor: Modi really engages his audience. This is evident not just in election campaign meetings, but in almost all the gatherings he addresses.

A year ago, he spoke knowledgeably and confidently about Gujarati traders establishing beachheads in the Black Sea region two centuries back at a function to release a scholarly volume called Gujarat And The Sea.

>Vice-President M H Ansari, no mean speaker himself, sounded banal and boring in comparison.

In Delhi, he pressed all the right buttons for an aspirational India as he focused on education and skill build-up for the young population, delivering a demographic dividend of rapid progress, global presence through trade and tourism driving growth.

All in all, it was an exhilarating tonic of optimism.

He delivers similar messages to other audiences as well.

In his victory speech on December 20, 2012, he asked poor mothers in the country to send their unemployed sons to Gujarat where they would find jobs.

He offered to share the state's grain surplus with the hungrier parts of India.

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Image: While talking to students in Delhi, Modi pressed all the right buttons for an aspirational India.
Photographs: Sondeep Shankar/Rediff.com

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Modi quenches the thirst for good news

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His critics may crib that these are mere gimmicks.

For example, if Gujarat has surplus food, why does it rank eleventh among the 16 major Indian states on the hunger index?

What Modi's opponents don't understand is that this is irrelevant to the audience. They are thirsting for good news. Modi quenches it in plenty, so they are prepared to forgive his use of hyperbole.

The second factor that works in Modi's favour is the aura of decisiveness he exudes.

He seems to have mastered the art of governing in our anarchical setting.

We may be in the third decade of liberalisation but, notwithstanding the greater availability of goodies, individual-centric exception-making decisions (read granting favours to a select few) remain the rule, just like it was in the bad old days.

We remain the good children of Macaulay even two hundred years later.

Our politicians and bureaucracy, large and small alike, have zeroed in on the power calculus. Exercising power is never a zero-sum game: Your gain is someone else's loss.

Rank does not define one's place in the hierarchy; what's important is the power one wields -- especially the kind that constricts others.

The unctuous bada babu was the presiding deity in most Kolkata offices. His counterpart today is the section officer who initiates notings in government files.

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Image: Modi exudes an aura of decisiveness.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
Tags: , Modi , Macaulay

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Modi's advantage: A shackled Union government

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Politics is all about power.

The Opposition is not supposed to allow the rulers to go unchallenged. That is the rule and not an exception in a democratic polity.

Even Barack Obama, supposedly the most powerful person in the world, has to face a recalcitrant Republican-controlled House of Representatives to get the resources America so badly needs.

What he does not face, though, is power politics closer home.

Once the US president makes a decision, there is no room for dissent within the cabinet. That is not quite the situation prevailing in India.

Our government faces opposition in Parliament and outside, as also from civil organisations. That is as it ought to be.

Since 1996, coalition partners have, at times, played the role of the opposition within. Again, that too, is acceptable.

But, in the United Progressive Alliance, in-house obstacles from the Congress and, increasingly since 2009, the Cabinet itself, have shackled decision-making.

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Image: Modi knows that India's government faces opposition not just in and outside Parliament, but also within its own coalition.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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How infighting works to Modi's advantage

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The much discussed policy paralysis is the most visible, but not the only manifestation of such turf battles.

They are seen when a rogue telecom minister flouts the collective will of the Cabinet and the law of the land.

They also appear when Jairam Ramesh is seen to be against (and now the supposedly pliant Jayanthi Natarajan) against everyone else, when Kamal Nath is seen to be against Montek Singh Ahluwalia...

Regardless of the merits of arguments on either side, the unedifying spectacle of economic policy mavens locking methodological horns with the government's chief statistician further dents the government's credibility.

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Image: Modi will take full advantage of the government's dented credibility.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Modi's decisions are engraved in stone

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The UPA is a collection of power centres, and a motley one at that.

It tries to paper over cracks within through mechanisms such as coordination committees, groups of ministers, empowered groups of ministers and cabinet committees.

Their only tangible result has been to send Pranab Mukherjee to Rashtrapati Bhavan. C Northcote Parkinson must be sniggering from wherever he is at the UPA providing this validation of his theory of coefficient of inefficiency!

Modi shines by contrast.

He brooks no contradiction in his fiefdom; his decisions are virtually engraved in stone.

This offers immense comfort to investors, domestic and foreign, who flock to him in droves.

He draws enormous mileage from this and will continue to do so for a long time. But a bulldozer leaves a lot of wreckage even as it clears a path.

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Image: Modi brooks no contradiction in his fiefdom.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Modi's mantra: Performance, performance, performance

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Good communication and a grasp on administration would come to naught if they are not backed by performance. And that is the third, and most important, contributor to Modi's continuing rise.

This column had earlier observed it would be well nigh impossible to entertain the claim that Gujarat has not performed better than other states on economic parameters, if it is not actually the best performing state of all.

The central government had gone to some trouble to spread the image that the Gujarat story was losing sheen lately. That was done through not very clever manipulation and regrouping of basic numbers, which could be readily discerned.

Now Ashok Gulati, the chairman of the Agriculture Prices and Costs Commission, a central government body, has shown that the data actually places Gujarat at the top of the state gross domestic product growth rate and in second place in agricultural growth rates in the period 2001-11 (Gazing At The Galaxy Of States, The Economic Times, January 31, 2013).

Gujarat does better than the national average on poverty reduction as well, though it is not the star performer.

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Image: Domestic and foreign investors flock to Modi, seen here with Ratan Tata, in droves.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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The elephant in Modi's room

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And yet -- in Modi's case, it is a big 'and yet' -- the elephant in the room does not go away.

All the hope, all the economic progress, come up against what Ashutosh Varshney (the Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University; he also directs the India Initiative at the Watson Institute) calls the 'unresolved and contentious issues,' which are 'all political' (Why India Must Allow Hyphens, The Indian Express, February 13, 2013).

While Varshney grants that, 'economically speaking, Modi's Gujarat is Guangdong-like, immensely successful,' he wonders: 'Does Modi want to integrate minorities by giving them space to breathe?'

Growth and development, inclusive or otherwise, require the pursuit of win-win strategies and a simultaneous abandonment of zero-sum games as preconditions.

We need to look not to the next election, but to the next generation and perhaps the one thereafter, putting aside concerns of who comes out on top.

That seems to be beyond the UPA's grasp.

Will the Modi model attempt it?


Image: Gujarat performs better than other states on economic parameters.
Photographs: Courtesy narendramodi.in

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