It was some 13 years ago that waiting around at Bangalore airport for a flight that was very delayed that I bought one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. It was just released and I bought it for 2 reasons: The authors were Gallup researchers and I have frequently followed the principle that the title proclaimed: “First break all the rules” (Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman). The book is an outcome of research with over 80000 successful managers and what principles guided them. In all these years I have never forgotten its main principle: “People don't change that much. Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough”. (I recommend the book for any manager or leader, including aspiring ones).
Change matters. But real change happens only with a dramatic experience or through a conscious new insight gained. Many mothers have lost children to drunken driving and they usually react angrily. One woman, Candice Lightner, who lost her 13-year old daughter to a drunk driver, even as she was deeply upset founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunken Driving) to combat drunken driving and help victims. That’s a dramatic event that changed a mother to respond differently from the normal. People who have learned that the Aryan Invasion Theory is a hoax have changed their thinking due to new insight and scientific research into history. Change is usually not incremental.
HR specialist Susan Heathfield says about the book: “The implications of this insight for training and performance development are profound. This insight encourages building on what people can already do well Instead of trying to “fix” weaker talents and abilities. The traditional performance improvement process identifies specific, average or below performance areas. Suggestions for improvement, either verbal or in a formal appraisal process, focus on developing these weaknesses”. Let me explain this. Steffi Graf, the great Tennis player, had a powerful forehand but the worst backhand in women’s tennis. Instead of improving her backhand, her trainer taught her to go around the ball to her left and hit her same powerful forehand. If he had tried to greatly improve her backhand, he would still be doing it. What great managers do is not eliminate the weakness but manage it in a way that doesn’t affect one’s strengths. They FOCUS on strengths. They don’t try to put in what’s not there, they draw out what’s left inside.
Godhra and post-Godhra 2002 Narendra Modi had a dramatic experience as also gained deep insights. He was vilified and political opponents, assorted NGOs and gangs and most of all, the media launched the most vicious witch-hunt ever known in Indian politics or media against him. He had the choice to fight them by reacting and fighting like any normal politician. He did not. Instead, he chose to focus on his strengths, the strength of people’s mandate and the strengths of Gujarat. Talent and skills are two different things. Skills can be transferred, not talent. One can be taught to fight fire, one can’t be taught to ‘stay calm’ under fire. The first is a skill, the latter is a talent. When it came to fire-fighting Modi had both. He stayed calm under fire and fought fire in his own way. On January 15, 2009, Capt. Sully Sullenberger landed a troubled aircraft with 155 on board on the Hudson river in New York. Everyone was saved. He had the talent and skill to fight fire and stay calm under fire.
The changes in Gujarat are not of great dramatic achievements, though many can be listed, but one of leadership. Creator of the artificial heart, Dr. Robert Jarvik says: “Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them”. No matter what one chooses to say about Modi that describes him quite well. He had no fears and didn’t bother about the odds against him. These are signs of strong leadership.
Imagine, Gujarat is not a state gifted with many natural resources. On that count it has a lot in common with Rajasthan. A few years ago Rajkot and Saurashtra region were completely starved for water. Yet, instead of rioting or agitating against the govt Gujjus pulled out their resourcefulness, their sense of community and combatted the water issue. The Gujju refuses to beg. He or she may sit on a footpath and sell Neem sticks as tooth-brush or anything they can sell but they do not resort to begging; it is extremely rare. It has been many years since one has even seen a rally protesting anything (unless you talk about Mallika Sarabhai). Many industries haven’t seen a strike in all their existence in Gujarat. No matter how much a Gujju earns he doesn’t spend like there’s no tomorrow. Except for a small number and a few weddings there is nothing ostentatious about the manner in which Gujjus use their wealth or about their lifestyle.
The only thing that had consistently angered Gujjus is the political division of society and communal riots. These are trademark features of Congress politics and of similar parties. KHAM theories, mindless reservations, freebies and turning a blind eye to communal crimes of the minority and alienating Hindus. Other than that, may be an increase in VAT or Sales Tax could upset Gujjus. Since mid-1990s a full-strength BJP has been in power and there has been no looking back. The last straw was when a known bootlegger and mafia guy was propped up to rule a small kingdom in one part of Ahmedabad and the 1985 riots. He was killed in an ‘encounter’ type strike when Shankersinh Vaghela was the CM. Vaghela had quit BJP to join forces with Congress to realise his ambition of becoming CM. Something the Gujjus have never forgotten and he is still paying a price for it. So what do Gujjus really want? Nothing really! Their basic message to the govt is “you mind your business and let us mind ours”.
Peace, safety or freedom of movement are all nothing new and have always been around in Gujarat. Even in times of natural disasters Gujarat has a large number of NGOs that reach the needy faster than govt agencies do. The plague in Surat in 1994 turned the city into a model city later on instead of destroying it. In times of disasters you won’t often hear the line “Sarkar kuch nahin karti”. On January 26, 2001 when a deadly earthquake struck most parts of Gujarat, power was back in Ahmedabad within 24 hours. The first responders, as always, were volunteer NGOs. Some parts of Kutch, the epicentre of the earthquake, are far better now than they were before the earthquake.
All the Gujjus want from a govt is to build great infrastructure, ensure water supply, create medical facilities and curb evil social practices. They don’t like their govt to be in their face every day. They don’t want to see Narendra Modi give a speech every day. They don’t look for grandiose schemes or announcements frequently. These are the rules Modi has broken and has been breaking frequently. Corner shops, Cafes and Paan-shops in Kolkata or Delhi are great places to discuss politics all the time; from morning till night. These same outlets in Gujarat would hardly have any political discussions. The best you can find is stock market discussions and during Cricket season a little more exciting betting discussions. I don’t think even a Central govt policy, except taxes, find much discussion among common folks. Most of all a huge majority of Gujjus don’t watch NDTV, CNN-IBN, TimesNow, Headlines Today or read TOI. In fact, most don’t read anything at all, unless mandatory. Believe me, till some years ago if you spoke English in Gujarat you were God. Er… That was till this Sachin Tendulkar came along.
So when the Social Genius from a news channel heads to Gujarat and wants to find out the condition of Muslims alone, she is not just insulting Muslims she is insulting all Gujjus. The Congress has built it into the psyche of media morons that the question must always be asked what a govt is doing for minorities (read Muslims). First and foremost it is a great achievement of Indian society that whether you are from majority or minority you are legally equals. The other question never occurs to the media: “What have Muslims done for Gujarat, what have Muslims done for India”? What have Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains and others done for Gujarat? For India? That’s the question that endeared JFK to the American people. Why not ask what the people have done for their state or country?
It is in such a divisive and destructive atmosphere and a viciously hate-filled media that Modi’s leadership was tested. And what did he offer? Let me quote Marcus Buckingham again: “What a leader does for followers is… turn anxiety into confidence. They’ve always done that throughout time and in every different society and situation. When leaders lead well, it’s because they’re able to rally people to a better future and make people spirited when they were previously anxious”. It is undeniable that Narendra Modi broke many rules of traditional Indian politics, especially Nehruvian politics. No subsidies, no free power, no freebies, no mindless reservations, no cash doles. Nothing! Have all the problems disappeared? Not at all! There are quite a few and newer ones are sure to come up. But Modi has quite definitely changed the political and electoral dialogue.
Modi’s development agenda is much talked about and much recognised. Which is why enemies of a progressive society will keep reminding of old wounds to attempt dividing societies. Our media does exactly that. Their only job is to defend the corrupt and keep dividing society on caste and communal lines to further their agenda of their political masters. Gujjus are far more liberal and open as a society than the ones on TV who have a twisted idea of “liberalism”. The development agenda is two-dimensional; one that is very visible and one that is not so visible. In the next part we will try and examine where the road from Gujarat leads to.