It is towards the end of 2008, and, aviation entrepreneur G.R. Gopinath gets a call from Gandhinagar, Gujarat's capital. D.K. Rao, the state's Principal Secretary handling infrastructure, wants to meet the man who introduced Indians to low-cost air travel to discuss a business idea.
Soon, they meet twice in Mumbai. Rao is under direct instructions from Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is upset that there are no flights between Gujarat's cities and towns. Gopinath flies to Ahmedabad to meet the man who is as famed for running a tight ship by way of administration as he is vilified for polarising the majority Hindus and minority Muslims and Christians like never before under his rule.
Gopinath explains that he has hardly any role in Kingfisher Airlines, which he has merged his airline Air Deccan with. The ex-army pilot offers to operate cargo flights of his new venture, Deccan 360. Modi agrees but does not give up his agenda. He asks Gopinath to get going on both projects and before parting, jocularly warns: "Be quick on your project. We are faster than you."
Come summer, if all goes according to plan, Deccan Aviation, a Gopinath venture, will begin operating air taxis in the state. Details are under wraps, but in a first-of-its-kind in India, the government will meet any shortfall in ticket revenues. The state has also offered to let Deccan 360 use a new airport outside Ahmedabad as a cargo hub.
In other states, says Gopinath, it is difficult to meet a chief minister as he is surrounded by hundreds of people, most of them seeking redressal of personal grievances. Modi, Gopinath says, avoids such meetings. "That is because, he thinks the system should take care of them," says the Bangalore businessman. "On the other hand, he proactively approaches or readily meets people bringing proposals that can create jobs."
This single-minded pursuit of business without any middlemen makes Modi's A team arguably the most-loved among all states by Indian - and, increasingly, foreign - businessmen.
The political class and bureaucracy speak the same language, so there is no confusion. Contrast that with the government in Karnataka, which is bumbling from one crisis to another besides battling charges of corruption. Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa "is not able to deliver because his MLAs are torn apart in several camps and the CM finds his hands tied," says Gopinath.
Modi, a fit 60-year-old, is obsessive about his daily routine, say those around him. He wakes up early - typically between 4 and 5 a.m. - and practises yoga. He then logs on to the Internet to check on the news.
As he reads the newspapers, he starts calling up a district collector here or a municipal commissioner there to get their version of what he may have read in a daily. State legislators can walk into his office without an appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays.
He meets his cabinet every Wednesday. "This is followed religiously by Modi," says Industry Minister Saurabh Patel, who works very closely with Modi.
And he is a stickler for time. A Chennai businessman with interests in software, cement and construction learnt this to his surprise when he reached Modi's Gandhinagar office a little early for a 3 p.m. appointment.
Minutes before the clock struck three, Modi came out to escort the 70-yearold industrialist into his room. As the tycoon was leaving after the meeting, he saw Modi's lunch thali being taken in. A chief minister had pushed back an already delayed lunch for a routine meeting?
| Modi's management mantra|
1. Think out of the box, think long term and follow the overall vision all the time
2. Benchmark with the best in the world
3. No micro management of state affairs, delegate as much. Be ready to take responsibility and be accountable
4. Political class and bureaucracy should speak in the same language
5. Effective communication
6. Use technology and innovation to monitor performance and progress at all levels
7. Learn the art of saying much in little
8. Manage expectations of various stakeholders
The industrialist was hugely impressed: in his home state, he is made to wait endlessly even when he goes to make a donation to the ruling party. Modi's lieutenants did not want the businessman's name disclosed.
Modi works with a small core group of top bureaucrats and politicians. Frequent visitors to his chamber include Chief Secretary A.K. Joti; Maheshwar Sahu, the Principal Secretary for Industry and Mining; A. K. Sharma, Chief Exe c u t ive of the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board; Industry Minister Patel; and Ramanlal Vora, the Education Minister.
Joti, a 1975 Gujarat cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Service, was brought in from the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam in early 2010 as chief secretary. If he stays his term until 2013, Joti will be among the longest-serving chief secretaries in the country.
Sahu, a 1980 batch IAS officer, is another key Modi man, having handled the Bhuj earthquake reconstruction. He was a Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology under Dayanidhi Maran. Sharma is known as the eyes and ears of Modi.
Modi's detractors - and there are plenty of them - liken his style of functioning to the politburo in China: authoritarian and final. Shaktisinh Gohil, a Congress leader of the Opposition in the state legislature, even terms Modi's approach vindictive.
"Where is the freedom to bureaucrats," he asks. Indira Hirway, Director of the Centre for Development Alternatives, and a keen Modi watcher is of the same view.
"Everything is under one hand. Even ministers are puppets. Bureaucrats are worried about being sidelined," she says.
As one story goes, the chief minister's office once called up a senior bureaucrat in the evening to ask for some information. The officer was playing cards in his club, and snubbed the caller, a junior officer. It was past 6 p.m., the bureaucrat said, and he had finished for the day. The very next day, he was transferred. BT was cited this instance on the condition that the official's name or designation would not be published.
On a recent visit to Gujarat, BT found several bureaucrats at work on the Muharram holiday. Arvind Agarwal, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Gujarat Industrial Development Corp., or GIDC, an agency tasked to build the state's industrial backbone, was at home, having just finished a meeting in the morning followed by another with his two staffers. At the Secretariat, Principal Secretary Sahu was readying to meet half a dozen bureaucrats to discuss pending issues.
Modi's people say he functions like a CEO, with a team of professionals thoroughly briefed and kept in line. "He stresses a lot on effective communication," says a retired bureaucrat who has worked with Modi.
In December, when the state government announced a farmer-friendly policy for acquisition of land for new industrial estates, only two people from Team Modi were allowed to speak to the media and industry associations: minister Patel and Sahu, both experts in policy. "It's a typical corporate culture," says Sunil Parekh, a strategic advisor to Zydus Cadila, a pharmaceuticals group.
True to form, the chief minister deploys technology for visibility into the system and speed of approval. The agreements signed at the Vibrant Gujarat summits are logged and tracked online through each stage. One exception is the Tata Nano project at Sanand, for which Modi deviated from the policy shortcircuiting the laid down procedures.
His team members say Modi explained to them time and again the reasons for bypassing the policy. "Nano is a major engineering project and it is trying to find a home in the country of its origin," Modi told them.
Getting the project not only worked wonders for Brand Gujarat, the investor-friendly state, but has also boosted its ambitions of becoming an auto hub to rival Gurgaon, Chennai and Pune. "Gujarat is home to the world's cheapest car. What more does a state need to market itself to the world," says Agarwal of GIDC.
The marketing win is Team Modi's first win all right; it will triumph when it institutionalises its success well into the future.Additional reporting by K.R. BalasubramanyamTo read more on what Narendra Modi has to say about Gujarat, subscribe to Business Today.