Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Modi is shaping, shaking and inspiring his bureaucracy

Ever since Modi took oath and reached Prime Ministers Office (PMO), he has made almost every move historic. Actually, let me correct. Even before taking oath he played a masterstroke by inviting all SAARC leaders for attending his swearing ceremony. It was entirely his brainchild in order to send out a strong message that Asia's stability is more important than developing friendly relations with Europe or America.

Modi has taken some very unusual steps of getting his bureaucratic team to work with extreme seriousness and dedication. When former PM Manmohan Singh took office he made merit based appraisal to be in place every year. No one saw it happen and constantly incompetent and corrupt officials dominated the PMO. In fact, PMO was rendered powerless and all decisions were taken by Sonia Gandhi.

On the contrary, Modi has converted his PMO the ultimate decision making office. He has asked his bureaucrats to report to him first before leaking any matter to media or the public. Such a meeting happened almost after 8 years. The very first day he met all bureaucrats - 72 Department secretaries (Source)of various departments under one roof and gave them clear cut instructions on how he is accessible by email, phone, SMS, personal interaction and that he would welcome any idea that works. He made it clear asking them to work without "fear or favor" and that he would protect them in return for their complete dedication. He clearly asked them to work long hours, make their offices functional and friendly to everyone who can walk into their office. He asked them to use technology as far as possible in their functioning. He has told them to make India relevant and everything else irrelevant. 

Unlike Singh, Modi appears to have an acute sense of listening and speaking out his ideas. All this is not new to bureaucrats in Gujarat but the whole country is now witnessing this unprecedented work style.. In fact one of the news articles stated that when asked about how to get Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) work the official gave a few ideas and Modi said he would get back to him. 24 hours later he came up with his own ideas and a blend of both was employed. It shows how seriously Modi takes his work and implementation of his vision. There is a personal touch he adds to every initiative which makes him more accountable. His team in Delhi is waking up to this new reality. With discouraging family members or acquaintances to occupy posts in the office and asking them to work from 8 am to 8 pm 5 days a week or 6 days a week from 8 am to 5 pm - he clearly has made it very rigid for the bureaucrats to become performance oriented. Typically, these bureuacrats are Indian Administrative Officers (IAS) who report to their respective Minister. Under Singh, the PMO gave full freedom to the Ministers asking them to depend on these officers and take decisions. If the head of a team is not cognizant of what his team is up to the team collapses in no minute. This is true to anything - be it sports, a movie production, a company or even a society. The former PM was not strong enough to show his command and authority. Modi, however, has set a very strong foundation where he has categorically stated he won't tolerate  any such acts. His 10 point agenda for all bureaucrats is truly noteworthy and he has chosen fairly a reliable team.(source)

Modi talks sharply and crisply is a matter now well known. The very first day in office he asked all his Secretaries to make Power Point Presentations conveying what projects are stalled, what can be done and all had to be in bullets and no lengthy paragraphs or theoretical data. This itself shows he means business and that he expects his officials not to form committees for no reason to research something. Here is an article that explains how bureaucrats were excited and motivated to work after their interaction. Some of them were even worried to tune to Modi's style.

Modi has chosen some really impeccable officers of the highest integrity known to India in his core team. He is relying more on these officials than his own ministers. He wants his ministers to take political actions while the officers take policy actions. Here is a very interesting article that explains how Modi chose his core team of bureaucrats and why he chose ones with high merit and proven track record. This is truly motivating.

Modi himself puts 18 hours of work a day. This act of Modi is beginning to inspire several honest and committed bureaucrats to follow suit. He has never taken a vacation as CM of Gujarat even for a single day according to his own tweet. His relentless energy is visible in whatever he does. His team is just astonished to see his energy.

He scrapped GOM, EGoM (Video) which were formed during UPA and the committees did nothing but just met and did some paper work without really coming up with concrete implementations. This is truly one of the best steps because we don't need committees but people who are committed to taking actions.

Another interesting thing is when Modi asked all bureaucrats to report to him on any final decision without just conveying it to their respective MP's. Unlike the previous regime where bureaucrats would override PMO, Modi has asked that PMO overrides every MP and every bureaucrat. Basically, nothing goes out with Modi and if anything has gone he would get to task of correcting it. Such steps work as long as the leader heading the team is vigilant on every activity. Modi has shown to be so vigilant in Gujarat and he will be so.

The new phrase these days doing the rounds is "The Prime Minister is watching you".

Just within a fortnight he has set up so many meetings, met so many officials - sometimes as late as 9 pm. 
An interesting article was published here which stated that everyone is struggling hard to cope up to this work style. Here is another where ministers are expressing it is not easy to take a vacation unless results are shown.

Despite this workaholic style of working, Modi seems to find time to communicate directly to people through Twitter. He creates his own media and speaks directly to the very people to whom he is accountable. It is this distinctive style that has made him a very special politician seen in the last 30 years. 

While all of this is truly path breaking and a solid foundation is now laid we have to wait for results. The challenges and promises made are huge. Such groundwork seems to be promising, but having a good team is one and performing during crucial circumstances is another. A team's best test is when it has to perform in a harsh terrain. India is a harsh terrain in every angle - social, economical, financial or geo-political. It  is too early to comment on the team's performance since the journey has begun.

Many promises Modi made are quite tough to implement across the country. River linking, creation of 100 smart cities are just two of them to mention. Many action plans that have worked in Gujarat are tough to replicate across the country especially in states where the anti-Modi parties function.

One thing is for sure. A true action-oriented person who has occupied the highest post. He has his task cut out and let's hope that this good team indeed does some good work.

Going by the standards of how our bureaucracy functions in all states cutting across all political parties, it is a welcome change to see the spirit with which Modi's team of bureaucrats are beginning to perform.

The PM has already indicated that he will take harsh steps which may not please everyone who loves him. Let's see if these steps are harsher than the harsh conditions we already are facing.


Anonymous said...

Nice article Anjie...

- Rahul

Anonymous said...

Loved reading the article.. Nicely written Anjan :)

- Bala