Narendra Modi: A Powerhouse Or A Building Dictatorship?

Arrays of Management Gurus and thinkers have emphasized on the qualities and importance of a great (team) leader. John C. Maxwell was recorded describing a leader as “…the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. The Oxford dictionary defines a leader as “a person who leads a group of people, organisation or a country”. In all available definitions of the term and its understanding by thinkers, the common thread is the emphasis on the word “lead” and “team”. A leader is distinguished from a manager by the qualities of showing the way along with managing the group while doing it.

Andrew Carnage once said “no person will become a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit”, it is think a thought which envisages for me the greatest quality of a leader, empowering the team and showing the way, taking the blame and sharing the credit. In today’s India, we have politicians and officeholders who claim to be leaders but do not deliver on any of the qualities a leader should have. It might just be the trick of the trade or in most probability an intelligent way to keep one’s shoes clean; sling the mud so that you don’t have to dirty your hands cleaning your shoes.

India’s federal structure derives its strength from de-centralization of power between the states and the centre; it further de-centralizes the power on various subjects/matters to ministries and administrative wings created to serve specific interests along with states and centre alike. There are numerous reasons behind this, one of my favourites’ is the notion that every subject and field has its own nuances and it is imperative to understand these nuances before managing the field. But this is not what seems to be happening in the current government discourse in India.

I mince no words in stating that the current Prime-Minister’s Office (PMO) is the most centralized and powerful in the history of independent India. From spearheading the Swach Bharat campaign to boosting Make in India, the PMO has been at the helm of it all. As one Bharatiya Janata Party leader quipped, “There is only one office in the government now. That’s the Prime Minister’s Office”. Indeed it is, anything from formulating economic policies to ushering in administrative reforms, from launching and overseeing important schemes and policies of the Govt. to directions for key postings in the government to being the go-to office for business and industry, from setting the tone of the Independence Day speech to hosting marquee start-ups in mega shows, the PMO seems to be at the center of it all.

For me, Modi’s all-powerful PMO has attracted attention because of its uber-secretive and strongly centralised style of policy-making which stands in sharp contrast to Manmohan Singh’s 10-year stint and, indeed, the first term of the National Democratic Alliance under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I wrote in a previous post that the PMO had sent a directive to the Niti Ayog asking them to produce “desired” data on job creation with an aim to substantiate the claims made by the Finance Minister in the Parliament. Doesn’t it sound strange? The PMO is seeking validation for statements made by the Finance Ministry! Yes, there needs to be a chain binding all the ministries of the government, and the chain is rightfully the PMO, but then it should not in any regard undermine the portfolio of ministries under it.

There is a reason why we do not have a 1000 member PMO, instead, we have a 100 member PMO and 50+ member different ministries. This makes way for specific ministries and units of the government to deliver on specific subjects and matters. The PMO, in my opinion, should act is a guiding force for all under it, it can show the way but should not direct in a “do it or otherwise” manner. De-centralisation may not be a full-proof form of administration but with an effective central authority watching over smaller units, it becomes the tool for democratic strength.

Whereas, centralization of power of most ministries undermines their individual existence and does nothing but make way for implementation problems and sloppy policies. It is because of this that we respect the master of one more than the jack of all. In this case, the PMO might not be even the Jack of all, but it surely presents a master of all image wherever it can.

Implementation of Demonetization and GST portrayed a sorry image of the PMO as after every few days there were changes in policy being brought in with the intent to improve the implementation. Some may see these changes as proactive steps to ensure smooth functioning but I see them as grave mistakes in initial policy formation. Many academicians and industry experts have been recorded critiquing many government policies; it is pertinent to note that most of them do not hold a political position or party-affinity. Their critique in all cases revolves around how proper discussion and brainstorming over policy may have well-shaped it and save the country from the havoc that it caused. It is not important as to how long-lasting the negative impact is, it is important that there should be zero to almost nil negative impact when it is about a policy which shapes the economy of a country.

To conclude I would emphasize on the need to restore power in the units of the democracy. Because each unit has an indispensable role to play and dispensing this role will do nothing but affect the strength of a policy on its core. We do need a strong guiding PMO but not one which acts like a dictator than a leader. It is for you to conclude is the current PMO a leading powerhouse or a budding dictatorship?

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