Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other MPs leave after the BJP Parliamentary Party Meeting at the Parliament Library Building in New Delhi on April 6, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

PM Modi Is Clever, If Only He Was Lazy Too!

BloombergQuintOpinion

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a political decathlete. Winning a single sprint or marathon does not cut it for him. Modi wants the crown of the ‘world’s greatest politician’, just as the title of the ‘world’s greatest athlete’ belongs to the decathlon winner at the Olympics. See how he runs his politics like the gruelling two-day ten-event track and field competition:

PM Modi Is Clever, If Only He Was Lazy Too!
PM Modi Is Clever, If Only He Was Lazy Too!

Modi: I Don’t Have Time To Rest Or Pause

Prime Minister Modi says (and we believe him!) that he works round the clock, seven days a week, without ever having taken a vacation in his life. “I’ve got no time to waste. Let others think about big, complex issues. I take delight in solving the tiny problems faced by ordinary citizens.” (But he’s known to have taken great offence when The Economist called him a constant ‘tinkerer’; let’s leave that story for another day.)

“I am proud that I can speak about the nitty-gritty of toilet construction from the ramparts of the Red Fort, while political pundits in Lutyens Delhi get entangled in their isms and theories.” Of late, he has switched to the third person when referring to himself.

“Modi does not care about their useless philosophies. Modi is hands on. Modi is a doer. Modi is tireless”, he says often, with undisguised glee.

But Is A Workaholic Leader Such An Unmitigated Blessing?

Erich Von Manstein was among Hitler’s best military strategists. He was ruthless and committed indescribable atrocities on Jews. But he also crafted a celebrated theory of selecting leaders, which is best represented by the following grid:

PM Modi Is Clever, If Only He Was Lazy Too!

According to Manstein, “there are only four types of officers. First, there are the lazy, stupid ones. Leave them alone, they do no harm… Second, there are the hardworking, intelligent ones. They make excellent staff officers, ensuring every detail is properly considered. Third, there are the hardworking, stupid ones. These people are a menace and must be fired at once. They create irrelevant work for everybody. Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones. They are suited for the highest office”.

Why Is ‘Lazy’ A Critical Trait Of An Effective Leader?

Because if you are intelligent but slightly lazy, you allow your thoughts to expand, roam free, explore and search for creative, unusual solutions. Often the best answers strike a leader as he or she “gazes aimlessly from the corner room window, the mind buzzing with a million what-ifs”. Remember, a leader is rarely required to do anything with his or her hands. But he or she has to constantly do the most tiring thing in the world – make judgements, decisions, which can improve or ruin the lives of millions of people. It’s a taxing, thankless task, and the mind must have the space to juggle complex permutations and trade-offs before taking the final call.

If you are always hyper-busy, on the move, giving unending rhetorical speeches, a la Modi, you physically exhaust and suppress your intelligence.

So instead of:

  • Searching for the simplest solution, you succumb to the obvious, clichéd ones.
  • Delegating to colleagues to come up with options, you are only instructing them to deliver.
  • Allowing colleagues to make honest mistakes while searching for creative solutions, you petrify them with the consequences of failure.
  • Surrounding yourself with people who can dare to disagree, and thereby enrich your own perspective, you create a cabal of couriers.

But Modi Hates ‘Lazy’…

Prime Minister Modi is neither ‘lazy’ himself nor can he tolerate a ‘lazy’ person around him.

So in the Manstein model, Modi himself is not a leader, but the Chief Staff Officer.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the NITI Aayog’s Transforming India Lecture Series, in New Delhi, on August 26, 2016. (Photograph: PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the NITI Aayog’s Transforming India Lecture Series, in New Delhi, on August 26, 2016. (Photograph: PIB)

Around him:

  • Only a sprinkling of young cabinet colleagues and key bureaucrats are intelligent/hardworking, making for effective subordinates.
  • Many are stupid/hardworking who should be fired immediately, but he can’t do that in our hidebound administrative structure.
  • Most who fall in the stupid/lazy category are impossible to ignore or leave well alone, unlike Manstein’s recommendation.

In effect, Modi’s team, by his own emphatic assertion, is bereft of intelligent/lazy people. In Manstein’s paradigm, it’s awfully weak on the ‘creative leadership’ quotient. It’s full of ‘command/staff officers’ who can keep the old wheels oiled and running, without covering much new ground.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other MPs leave after the BJP Parliamentary Party Meeting at the Parliament Library Building in New Delhi on April 6, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and other MPs leave after the BJP Parliamentary Party Meeting at the Parliament Library Building in New Delhi on April 6, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

But What If PM Modi Had Chosen To Be Intelligent And ‘Lazy’?

Ah, now that’s getting into entirely speculative terrain, but what the heck, here goes:

  • The demonetisation misadventure may never have happened; and even if it did, ATMs would have worked since all the notes would have been of the same size.
  • GST would have been ‘piloted’ in a few districts, glitches ironed out, before inflicting it on everybody.
  • Parliament may have worked.
  • The petrol price bonanza of 2014 may have been used to recapitalise banks, solving the twin balance sheet problem, and catapulting the economy near a double-digit growth track.
  • Hate mongers would have been curbed; minorities would not have been alienated.
  • Cattle trade would not have been disrupted, avoiding major farm distress.
  • Urban crime may have been better controlled; police force more sensitised.
  • The Supreme Court may not have been in turmoil.

I can go on and on...

Of course, it cannot be anybody’s case that India would have become Utopia in four years. But it may have reached a darn sight better place than where we find ourselves today…

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.