Tough leadership paralysis..Even Manmohan Singh was never so helpless!

By Cleofato A Coutinho
14 June 2021 22:44 IST

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Narendra   Modi has completed 7 years in office. Seven years is a good time for stock taking. Last year and half has been a difficult period for the entire world, India included. Difficult times provide a real barometer of political leadership. U.S economy was doing well under Donald Trump. But He failed the covid-19 test.

Our PM built a Teflon coated image through ‘shock and awe’ oratory and incredible BJP election machinery. Various international rating agencies showed standing of the world’s largest democracy under the ‘Vishwaguru’ in poor light. Our GDP had a steep fall to 3% with all-time high in unemployment and foreign investments dipped even before the Corona virus invaded us. The global perception index on corruption show India down by 10 places. Our country is dubbed as ‘flawed democracy’ by Economist Intelligence. Democracy watch-dog freedom house downgraded India as ‘partly free’. Despite all that very little political reserve of the Modi Political capital was lost.  

In the first wave of the pandemic it could be said that the country was not prepared. Despite the devastation of economy and loss of lives, our PM earned a benefit of doubt. The ‘Morning Consult’ a US data intelligence unit   confirmed that PM’s image peaked to 84% from the 82% high at the time of abrogation of article 370 and dismantling of the state of J&K.

The devastating second wave shattered our economy further. According to the CMIE index 34% lost jobs during the pandemic. Our failing health infrastructure collapsed and the floating bodies in Ganga and bodies being buried in the sands on river banks is only show  the state of affairs. The ‘same ‘Morning Consult’ now tells us that the PM’s approval rating has tanked to 64% (globally 64% approval is high). The C-voter mood of the nation claims that the Prime Minister’s image built over seven years collapsed in seven weeks completely. The PM was aware of the public anger and the robust leadership, not known to cave in, announced a revised vaccine policy as the Supreme Court dumped the government policy as arbitrary and irrational.

The strong leader myth got busted when the devastating second wave struck and the administration built around the ‘one and half’ (PM & HM) looked clueless permitting the High Courts and Supreme Court to take over. Even Manmohan Singh never looked so helpless! The only person seen firefighting for was Tushar Mehta, the solicitor General of India. The otherwise Modi centric administration panicked and  pushed the burden on the states, forgetting that the pandemic  fight was a national one under The Disaster management Act.

 It can  be said that such a surge could not have been expected. We thought we had strong and powerful   leadership in the PM, who could shut down a country of over 1.35 billion population with a two hours’ notice. But in the second wave, there was only panic and chaos. The leadership failed the country. It lacked farsightedness, visionary approach and scientific temper.

 A great leader would have to inspire confidence and build consensus with his team so as to get the people ready. In a cabinet form of government, when PM of the country has to deal with oxygen suppliers, directly talk to doctors, hold personal discussion with drug manufacturers and conduct meetings with district magistrates; with the ministers responsible for their departments not seen or heard. There was neither inter-ministerial nor cabinet functioning seen in the most difficult period. That portrays a complete collapse of cabinet system and showcases   an authoritarian, personalized all-knowing    leadership.  In such leadership sane voice and advice or scientific temper or domain expertise have no place.   

At this point in time it is important to look at the Mahashtra leadership. Uddhav Thackeray, otherwise with right wing ultra nationalist background stood out in these difficult times. The chief justice led bench of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India took note of the so called Maharashtra model of covid medical care and recommended to other states. The BJP’s legal man of the moment Tushar Mehta spoke of the Maharashtra model and  suggested that the Delhi should study it. (he was having a dig at Arwind Kejriwal model)

Uddav Thackery ought to be complimented for not centralizing the covid management around himself. The BMC commissioner got a free hand including taking credit for success by addressing press conferences but the commissioner was told any failure would end at the CM’s desk. That’s a great leadership trait. The municipal commissioner further decentralized the covid care management into 24 wards, each led by the ward officer with an independent covid war- room. The BMC took over all private covid beds in all private hospitals and made available at affordable rates. The setting up of jumbo hospitals and medical admission being decided by ward officers and medical professionals was the high point of the model. The decentralized management showed results in both the waves making   Iqbal Chahal an international hero.

The Maharashtra model   revolved around listening to experts in building the medical care and covid management. The CM is credited for not interfering in day today matters. The CM   calmly explained the crises and the steps taken with no unrealistic promises of defeating covid 19. He focused on the battle against covid-19 and prepared the state for the worst and kept the people updated of the state of affairs. The bureaucracy worked with new zeal and inspiration. Covid-19 management baptized Uddav Thackeray’s   leadership.

Bluff, Bluster and Rhetoric may help in cult building. These are not traits of a great leader. It may instill fear in citizenry. Leadership by fear worked for a limited period in Germany and Italy before the Second World War!

 

Narendra   Modi has completed 7 years in office. Seven years is a good time for stock taking. Last year and half has been a difficult period for the entire world, India included. Difficult times provide a real barometer of political leadership. U.S economy was doing well under Donald Trump. But He failed the covid-19 test.

Our PM built a Teflon coated image through ‘shock and awe’ oratory and incredible BJP election machinery. Various international rating agencies showed standing of the world’s largest democracy under the ‘Vishwaguru’ in poor light. Our GDP had a steep fall to 3% with all-time high in unemployment and foreign investments dipped even before the Corona virus invaded us. The global perception index on corruption show India down by 10 places. Our country is dubbed as ‘flawed democracy’ by Economist Intelligence. Democracy watch-dog freedom house downgraded India as ‘partly free’. Despite all that very little political reserve of the Modi Political capital was lost.  

In the first wave of the pandemic it could be said that the country was not prepared. Despite the devastation of economy and loss of lives, our PM earned a benefit of doubt. The ‘Morning Consult’ a US data intelligence unit   confirmed that PM’s image peaked to 84% from the 82% high at the time of abrogation of article 370 and dismantling of the state of J&K.

The devastating second wave shattered our economy further. According to the CMIE index 34% lost jobs during the pandemic. Our failing health infrastructure collapsed and the floating bodies in Ganga and bodies being buried in the sands on river banks is only show  the state of affairs. The ‘same ‘Morning Consult’ now tells us that the PM’s approval rating has tanked to 64% (globally 64% approval is high). The C-voter mood of the nation claims that the Prime Minister’s image built over seven years collapsed in seven weeks completely. The PM was aware of the public anger and the robust leadership, not known to cave in, announced a revised vaccine policy as the Supreme Court dumped the government policy as arbitrary and irrational.

The strong leader myth got busted when the devastating second wave struck and the administration built around the ‘one and half’ (PM & HM) looked clueless permitting the High Courts and Supreme Court to take over. Even Manmohan Singh never looked so helpless! The only person seen firefighting for was Tushar Mehta, the solicitor General of India. The otherwise Modi centric administration panicked and  pushed the burden on the states, forgetting that the pandemic  fight was a national one under The Disaster management Act.

 It can  be said that such a surge could not have been expected. We thought we had strong and powerful   leadership in the PM, who could shut down a country of over 1.35 billion population with a two hours’ notice. But in the second wave, there was only panic and chaos. The leadership failed the country. It lacked farsightedness, visionary approach and scientific temper.

 A great leader would have to inspire confidence and build consensus with his team so as to get the people ready. In a cabinet form of government, when PM of the country has to deal with oxygen suppliers, directly talk to doctors, hold personal discussion with drug manufacturers and conduct meetings with district magistrates; with the ministers responsible for their departments not seen or heard. There was neither inter-ministerial nor cabinet functioning seen in the most difficult period. That portrays a complete collapse of cabinet system and showcases   an authoritarian, personalized all-knowing    leadership.  In such leadership sane voice and advice or scientific temper or domain expertise have no place.   

At this point in time it is important to look at the Mahashtra leadership. Uddhav Thackeray, otherwise with right wing ultra nationalist background stood out in these difficult times. The chief justice led bench of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India took note of the so called Maharashtra model of covid medical care and recommended to other states. The BJP’s legal man of the moment Tushar Mehta spoke of the Maharashtra model and  suggested that the Delhi should study it. (he was having a dig at Arwind Kejriwal model)

Uddav Thackery ought to be complimented for not centralizing the covid management around himself. The BMC commissioner got a free hand including taking credit for success by addressing press conferences but the commissioner was told any failure would end at the CM’s desk. That’s a great leadership trait. The municipal commissioner further decentralized the covid care management into 24 wards, each led by the ward officer with an independent covid war- room. The BMC took over all private covid beds in all private hospitals and made available at affordable rates. The setting up of jumbo hospitals and medical admission being decided by ward officers and medical professionals was the high point of the model. The decentralized management showed results in both the waves making   Iqbal Chahal an international hero.

The Maharashtra model   revolved around listening to experts in building the medical care and covid management. The CM is credited for not interfering in day today matters. The CM   calmly explained the crises and the steps taken with no unrealistic promises of defeating covid 19. He focused on the battle against covid-19 and prepared the state for the worst and kept the people updated of the state of affairs. The bureaucracy worked with new zeal and inspiration. Covid-19 management baptized Uddav Thackeray’s   leadership.

Bluff, Bluster and Rhetoric may help in cult building. These are not traits of a great leader. It may instill fear in citizenry. Leadership by fear worked for a limited period in Germany and Italy before the Second World War!

 

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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