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The name on Indian lips: Modi

SERVING THE PEOPLE: Mr Modi has instructed his ministers to remain in constant touch with the people and not waste their hours in Parliament in social engagement.


    Jun 16, 2014

    The name on Indian lips: Modi

    THE most frequently used four-letter word in India is "Modi".

    Admired by millions, feared by millions. Good news for the economy, bad news for leaders everywhere.

    Here are some good reasons why this man is probably turning out to be the biggest catalyst in how India reinvents itself through everyday practices, ethics, professionalism and anything positive you can think of.

    This is remarkable when you think of it because, for decades, India has convinced itself that any transformation within could be achieved only through its saints or teachers.

    Suddenly, 1.27 billion people are taking a daily correspondence course in personality transformation from a politician.

    India's political class is marked by subservience and cronyism; the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has said that no one should touch his feet - even out of respect. Handshakes will do, but if you want to touch his feet then risk earning Mr Modi's icy glare, or being dismissed as a sycophant.

    India's bureaucracy is marked by uninspiring offices with paper files. Mr Modi made a surprise visit within a fortnight of taking over when he walked around the offices and is reported to have merely stared at the stacks of files; the officers got the message and, within a day, dozens of bureaucrats sitting in New Delhi's offices were scouting around for unused rooms or garages where the surplus files could be stored.

    India's economy has been hamstrung by bureaucrats not wishing to embark on complex decision-making for fear of being questioned on the grounds of integrity, which, in turn, has staggered a robust economy.

    In his 10-point agenda for kick-starting the economy, Mr Modi put "bureaucrat confidence" at the top, telling them to come directly to him in the event of any clarification. The operative word is "directly".

    India is notorious for politicians who are accessible only in the few months leading to an election.

    In this reality, Mr Modi has already made his first change, instructing his ministers to remain in constant touch with the people and not waste their hours in Parliament in social engagement. Instead, he wants them to invest their time in familiarising themselves with ground-level realities.

    For himself, Mr Modi is a frequent tweeter with 4.81 million followers (as at press time), keeping the second-most-populous country posted.

    The result is that he is everywhere in India. You walk into any social party and every second conversation is about him; you eavesdrop on the buzz among train commuters and he figures every few minutes.

    Never before - and I use this observation with responsibility - has one man meant so much to as many in as short a tenure.

    The Modi electricity is passing through contemporary India. This is bad news for Indian leaders everywhere because there is now a benchmark against which their daily actions are being appraised; there is a filter against which their commitment is being tested.

    I live in a state (West Bengal) where Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party won only two seats out of 42 and yet there is a perceptible excitement among ordinary folk to engage with Mr Modi's party, become members, aggregate their voices and provide the only real opposition to the state's ruling Trinamul Congress in the state elections of 2016.

    There is pride. There is excitement. There is hope. When this heartbeat ripples through a sixth of humanity, then the implications run deeper for the rest of the world.

    That most common four-letter word in the world now has competition.