Nov 28, 2008

[COVERT] Fortnightly Magazine

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[COVERT] Fortnightly Magazine

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"I left Modi’s house deeply impressed."

Game, Seth & Match | Suhel Seth


Let me begin with a disclosure: I have written a number of articles against Narendra Modi and his handling of the post-Godhra riots; I have called him a modern-day Hitler and have always said that Godhra remains an enduring blemish not just on him but on India’s political class. I still believe we as a nation are just beginning to pay a heavy price for the Godhra riots. But the fact is that time has moved on and so has Modi. He is not the only politician in India accused of communalism. The whole country venerates the Congress as the secular messiah, but it was the Congress that presided over the riots in 1984 in which over 3,500 Sikhs died, three times the number killed in Gujarat.

The fact is there is no better performer than Narendra Modi in India’s political structure. Recently, I went to Ahmedabad to address the Young President’s Organisation and I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up with Modi. I called at his house the day I landed in Ahmedabad. There were no fawning staff members; no secretaries running around; no hangers on — just the two of us with one servant serving tea — something that the Gandhis and the Mayawatis need to learn from Modi. Most impressive was the passion Modi exuded: for development; for an invigorated Gujarat; for uplifting the living standards of people in his state.

With childlike enthusiasm he rushed to a coffee table book on GIFT, the proposed Gujarat Industrial City that will come up on the banks of the Sabarmarti, a project that will put the Dubais and the Hong Kongs of this world to shame. It is also Modi who created the inter-linking of rivers so that the Sabarmati is no longer dry. He also told me how keen he was about Ratan Tata setting up the Nano plant in Gujarat. Modi related the story of the Parsi Navsari priests to Ratan Tata, which touched the industrialist greatly. The story describes how the Navsari priests [the first Parsis] landed in Gujarat. Upon their arrival, the ruler of Gujarat sent them a glass of milk, full to the brim, indicating there was no place for them in his kingdom. The priests added sugar to the milk and sent it back, saying they would only make his kingdom sweeter. The Parsis were allowed into Gujarat and India.

Narendra Modi is a man in a hurry and he has every reason to be. After L.K. Advani, he is the BJP’s trump card and he knows it. I imagine people like Rajnath Singh are weak irritants to him. He also believes the country needs an apolitical strategy to counter terrorism — in fact he told me how he had alerted the Prime Minister, Home Minister and the NSA about the bomb blasts in Delhi and they did not take him seriously. His approach indicates he will be a firm hand dealing with terrorism. There are cynics who call this minority-bashing, but it is obvious Modi genuinely means business as far as law and order is concerned.

I left Modi’s house deeply impressed. He was clearly passionate and deeply committed. On the drive back I asked my driver what he thought of Modi. His simple reply was, “Modi is God.” Before him, there was very little — bad roads, faulty power, poor infrastructure. Today, Gujarat is a power surplus state. Gujarat attracts more industry than all the states put together. Gujarat is the preferred investment destination for almost every multinational with a reputation for honesty.

After I finished talking to the YPO members I asked some casually what they thought of Modi. This was one area that views coincided across classes. They too said he was God, adding that if India had five Narendra Modis we would be a great country. I don’t know if this was typical Gujarati exaggeration or a reflection of the kind of leadership India now needs. There is, however, no question in my mind that Modi is truly a transformational leader. And we need more like him.

Suhel Seth is Managing Partner of Counselage and an irreverent observer of life

[COVERT] Fortnightly Magazine

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[COVERT] Fortnightly Magazine