Sunday, May 18, 2014

Narendra Modi - the disruptive innovator of Indian politics

If there is an inspirational tale these rather uninspirational times, it is that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

His journey from the son  of a tea stall owner to that of the countrys highest office is inspirational to say the least - but is also a story of hard work. Beyond hard work it is also a story of creativity, of execution and of inspiring leadership and charisma. For those who bother to study it (and I hope a book is written about the whole journey), they will find nuggets of management and leadership experience. These are just a few of my own observations.

I was reading recently about disruptive innovation. A disruptive innovation is something that turns an idea on its head, challenges assumptions and makes it impossible for the entrenched in the industry to respond. The disruptor, usually, makes, use of his or weakness and converts that into a strength. And Narendra Modi has disrupted, not one, but many entrenched belief systems over the last few years. And he has done it consistently - consistency is a virtue for any leader. Narendra Modi, is perhaps, the Steve Jobs of Indian politics.

The media went hammer and tongs after him. They had their vicious agenda and wanted him to succumb to it - to show their power and hold over him. If they could get him, they and their masters, thought, they could get anybody. And of course, unlimited power and pelf from those who wanted to see his back.

But, as he resisted the media, a new fan club was being formed. A group that saw their voice being heard through this man. This cut across party cadre and others who would otherwise not have anything to do with politics. This was the middle class, the class that needed and appreciated development - the class which wanted jobs, not doles - the class which wanted education and opportunities. It helped that the internet was available more and more - in the crucibles of Indian IT, in cybercafes and in homes. He continued to develop his state relentlessly - disrupting everything on the way. Disrupting votebanks, disrupting caste alliances, disrupting established notions of development - for example that farmers will only want subsidised electricity and would not pay for it. He also worked very hard. He has barely transferred bureaucrats in his 14 year tenure. As he worked his fans grew in number and spread the word. These were the early adopters of the Modi model - and they were spread across the world. He, at age 60 saw the potential of social media - the internet - of getting these early adopters together. He harnessed it to good effect. An ability to see new technology and harness it. And he has demonstrated it in Gujarat with green power among other things.

The future prime minister of India - started using twitter (he already was on facebook) and started off by following ordinary people across twitter (yours truly being one of them). What an honour for someone who is there on twitter just as a hobby. And each of those nearly 1000 people who he followed - were inspired that a man who has such lofty goals - seeks to follow and interact with common people like anyone of us. Now that was disruptive. It took the wind away from the medias sails before they realised what was happening. A leaders ability to see beyond the obvious - priceless. And slowly, but surely, his voice gained momentum across shores, across people. And may of these pioneers on social media were good influencers on the ground.

The media fought back trying to censor social media, call them names and ironically calling social media as paid. What an irony coming from the same journo tycoons for whom advertisements from companies and politicians are a source of revenue.

But the media continued to be as blindsided as they were. They hounded him for 12 years saying that he was responsible for the Gujarat riots. For them, the only target was Narendra Modi. He could have very well played into their hands and given an apology. But he stuck to his stand - he said, If I am guilty hang me, apologies are for those who are guilty. And he stuck to this stand for 12 long years (even as we speak). And those blindsided stuck to villifying just one person - even as riots happened every few months in state after state - even as terrorists hit the country every few months in city after city - they were interested in castigating only one person. And soon, people began to see through the mask of the media. Why are they so hell bent on one person? Why are they letting the others let go scot free?  He stood steadfastly to his values while others around him were losing theirs. Through every controversy he stuck to what he thought was right and was consistently proved right as well. Standing by ones values - a sign of a great leader.

Very soon, he started his own site, his own blog. His team independently records every interview he gives - the media often edits facts to their convenience as we saw just early this month. DD, the government broadcaster did some convenient edits that he was able to counter using their own recorded evidence. This was just one example, but he was able to counter the influence of mainstream media by unleashing the power of social media. Those fringe writers, bloggers, columnists (most likely, ignored by the powers that be) and of course - the internet - which when one looks back is the single biggest reason for 'right wing' discourse to come back in the country - began as early adopters and also created many fresh voices both online and offline - including this writer. Communication, communication, communication - with clarity, with regularity. Essential for any leader.

And when he did grow in popularity - he continued to bypass those who had a disproportionate share of voice, but less weight. Lesson - listen to the masses - not necessarily only armchair experts - look for maximising impact, not pleasing the chatterati.

The more they villified him, the more he grew. He used their weakness into his strength. The media (and his political opponents) found ever more people willing to lie and slander to gain favours. However, his value and ethics stood by him - and this is the beauty of values. The more you stand you own - you only need to continue while others fall victim to their own unethicalities. Every single person who has pointed fingers at him - turned out to have dubious values and ethics which they traded to get a clean chit from the ruling dispensation.

Then he turned Indias Prime Ministerial elections into a Presidential one - that of Modi - and of every vote for candidate from every village going to make him the Prime Minister. He unveiled a vision for the country - which the others did not. He covered a whopping 500 plus rallies across the country - which the others did not, or could not - connecting a chord across states - talking local issues, talking about youth issues, but had the entire election fought only on development. The same Congress which after nearly 60 years in governance had very little to talk in terms of development found itself blindsided by the candidate (the candidate they did have was a dud) and the issues (no leaders left with any credibility to talk). Plus Modis zero tolerance of corruption - as opposed to a dispensation mired neck deep in corruption. Again, he disrupted the election into a one versus no one contest. And the others obliged - by attacking him instead of attacking issues. The more they attacked the more he grew. Lesson - change the game. Dont play by what the opponent wants you to. Attack relentlessly - use everything that the opponent provides. Dont be afraid to speak the truth - he spoke about Article 370 in Jammu, about Saradha scam in Bengal, about riots in UP - which most politicians would have avoided. A leader is not afraid of facing unpleasant facts and leads from the front.

He inspires - right from the bureaucracy to the man on the street. The sheer number of people who have given their time to this campaign over the years - and in the past few months - is amazing. People from different walks of life. Getting the middle class and the youth interested in voting - again a big inspiration. Who said current political personalities are not inspiring - he is the one!

Isnt Modi a disruptive innovator at every level?

1 comment:

surekha said...

Very articulated article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.