Narendra Modi is not a tall man, but he exudes self assurance and authority. There is something of the High Priest of Mohenjo-Daro about him, presiding at the altar of Capitalist Gujarat
under the gaze of an adoring laity. Modi has been chief minister of Gujarat for just over nine years, in itself an enviable stretch. The billboards in Ahmedabad trumpet the January 12-13 Vibrant Gujarat Summit
There is more of Modi the man in view than of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. "This government is absolutely apolitical," says Modi. "When I make a decision there is no political consideration."
Indeed, Modi runs Gujarat like a benignly tyrannical CEO. "My government is P2G2," he says. "Propeople, proactive good governance." The firm's top and bottom lines are satisfyingly in the black.
This month's investment jamboree, organised every two years, is the fifth since 2003, and it promises to bring in a fresh torrent of industries and jobs
. The last one in 2009 swept aside meltdown gloom with $240 billion in commitments. "After four successful Summits the investments are in autopilot mode," Modi says.
"You can't operate outside the rules," Modi says, "but neither do you need a huge, extraordinary talent to run the government"
These money-fests exemplify Modi's single-minded focus on policy and implementation. "I spent a month or a month-and-a-half supervising micro-details for the first two Summits," he says. "This one is a couple of weeks away and I don't even know who is attending." That is a bit disingenuous, though. Modi has personally led a series of roadshows heralding this Summit, complete with panels of business leaders, video presentations, and slick promotional bumf.
The interview takes place in the chief minister's enclave in Gandhinagar, guarded by gimlet-eyed security. The surroundings are quiet and sylvan. There are no crowds of hangers-on, no fawning supplicants. There are large paper roses in the ante-room, but the air is redolent with the smell of rosewater. To critics who say he runs Gujarat like a one-man show, Modi is quick to emphasise 'Team Gujarat'. "In a democratic system a leader's biggest contribution should be to institutionalise every idea," he says.
"Gujarat's success is because we have institutionalised everything." After we have done talking, Modi, ever the media-savvy politician, spends close to half an hour posing obligingly for the photographer. It is a Thursday afternoon, but affairs of state seem to wait beyond the walls of the sunlit compound.
"In a globalised world with no borders, two or three things count," Modi says. "First, stability. Second, a policy-driven state. Third, what outcome are you delivering? If you have all three, becoming a global destination [for investment] is not difficult." He says every Gujarat policy is published online for public comment and debate. "Doodh ka doodh aur pani ka pani ho jata hai
," says Modi - the whey and the curds get separated.
"Then people feel it is their policy. Policy itself becomes a major driver of speed. My experience is that if you take decisions case by case, you lay the ground for corruption. But if you take decisions on the basis of policy, then you minimise the grey areas."
Technology, too, helps minimise and even eliminate corruption, he says. Every year, Modi organises a Chintan Shibir
, an "introspection camp". Along with his entire cabinet, all his party legislators, and every bureaucrat and senior police official, he spends three days discussing, debating - and learning.
"I don't believe for a moment that Gujarat has all the answers," he says. "We learn from others and borrow best practices." One year he invited an official from Kerala who had run an interesting project. Another year, "we invited the Chief Secretary of Nagaland because they had done things we wanted to hear about". To criticism that he brooks no dissent, Modi says even a very junior official "can stand up and criticise his superiors…I sit at the back, in the audience. I'm just a participant. I learn a lot."
But is Gujarat truly a meritocracy? Can a bright young administrator rise quickly to the top? "You can't operate outside the rules," Modi says, "but neither do you need a huge, extraordinary talent to run the government. You need sweat, you need commitment. You need youthful thinking, out of the box thinking."
Towards that end, in 2009 Modi launched the "CM Fellowship" programme (www.gujaratcmfellowship.org). Young people from all over India are encouraged to apply. There is no age limit, or an educational minimum, or even the need to be a Gujarati speaker. The CM Fellows are selected after a six-month shortlisting and interview process, and have to commit to spending a year working in a government department or a district. They get stipends and accommodation.
The first batch kicked off in July 2010. "We have about 20 such boys," says Modi. "They are all technologically sound." Modi's aides say he leads a spartan lifestyle, although he willingly turned himself out in different clothes for BT
's pictures, with a valet cradling an armload of mufflers in different colours.
He only occasionally meets his mother, who also lives in Gandhinagar with his younger brother. "I come from an ordinary background," Modi says. "We did not know anything about elections or politics. I never thought I would sit in this chair. I have never dreamt of becoming something. I have dreamt about doing a lot of things."
Modi, who turned 60 last September, describes two other processes he has set in stone. Every Tuesday "is for MLAs and MPs", he says. He and all his ministers do not stir out of their offices all day. Any legislator, state or central, can walk in alone or with a delegation for a conversation. "No meetings are set by my entire team. Often I am in my office until close to midnight and meet upwards of fifty people for detailed chats on Tuesdays."
Every Wednesday is Cabinet day. At 10 a.m. the Gujarat Cabinet meets minus Modi for a "zero hour". Problems and issues are thrashed out, and when Modi joins the meeting an hour later he is presented with points and recommendations.
Does he do performance appraisals for his ministers? "There is no need," he says a trifle indignantly. "We are together. My Cabinet is the smallest in India, only 15 people. I meet them every day, I know what they are up to. We are a team."To read more on what Narendra Modi has got to say about Gujarat, subscribe to Business Today.