Sunil Kant Munjal is one of the founder promoters of the Hero Group. He chairs the board of the Indian Public School Society, and the board of MEPSC, a government and industry supported skills’ initiative that seeks to create a professionally competent workforce for India.
My heartiest congratulations to Narendra Modiji on his 70th birthday. On behalf of the Hero Parivaar, I wish him health and success as he stewards India through this complex time.
It is for future generations to judge him and to define his legacy. For the moment, let me simply assert that Modiji has already done enough to go down in history as one of Independent India’s most impactful and imaginative prime ministers. Despite the odd hiccup, most Indians, including NRIs the world over, are willing to endorse the Modi Model of Leadership; he is more powerful and seemingly more unassailable than any other Indian leader in recent memory, and importantly, as New York Times noted in a May 2020 article, he is ‘widely seen as a mobiliser not a despot.’
Over the last 73 years India has steadily consolidated as a nation, through the efforts of successive governments and every leader has had the nation’s interests in mind while kicking the ball forward. Modiji has brought speed, dynamism and creative destruction to the table; of course, when many things are done quickly, it ruffles a few feathers, more so given India’s continental size, huge disparities, immense plurality and diverse federal structure.
Like all monumental leaders, Modiji has critics and fans. His critics say he is a polarising figure who doesn’t easily brook dissent; his fans see in him the leader who brings dignity and pride to the Nation’s faith. Without taking sides, all I would say is that over these past six years, Modiji has effectively built a bridge that has somehow connected India’s past and the present with its future. When he finally moves on, his legacy would include the possible transformation of a third world country into a nation that has earned its rightful place on the global high table.
As the nation’s leader, he brought decisive Centre-driven leadership at a time India needed it. Few governments in the history of independent India have worked as hard and as relentlessly as this government, and a large part of the credit must surely go to Modiji, whose 18-hour workdays (and yoga sessions!) have injected energy, purpose and pride into the business of governance.
His leadership has connected India and Indians in myriad ways, using ideas never imagined earlier as also some existing ones. He took the idea of a digital backbone started by the earlier government and has brought millions of Indians into the mainstream through the JAM trinity and the nation’s welfare support now reaches the poor and the deserving directly, while consumers and producers are linked through a series of path-breaking reforms. At the same time the legacy of road building set by his predecessor in the NDA, Atal Behari Vajpayee has been augmented with an additional focus on make-in-India, railways, waterways, energy and defence. He has also energised the bureaucracy by injecting accountability.
Modiji stands tall as a leader with firm views and firmer convictions. He has taken daring leaps of faith without fear of consequence, public perception and opinion (demonetisation in 2016, Uri strike, national lockdown of March 2020, etc.,) That India, despite the pandemic, is still continuing to radically reform itself is significant, and offers hope of a brave new decade in which Modiji would no doubt leave his imprint.
It is in the geopolitical arena where Modiji’s stamp is the most evident, and he has engineered a paradigm shift across several levels. First, India’s approach to international negotiations is shifting towards a transactional orbit from one exclusively based on principle. Second, Modiji has successfully introduced brinkmanship and attrition as strategic weapons in geopolitics. Third, he and his team have developed a template for a more proactive and nuanced engagement with the rest of the world.
Through pre-emptive actions (Uri, Balakote, Ladakh, removal of Article 370 etc.,) Modiji has dispelled the perception that India is a soft state. At the same time, by taking strong stands during WTO negotiations and principled ones while supplying essential medicines to the world in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, Modiji has etched India’s position as an assertive, responsive, responsible and a humane global power.
In summary, if I were to seek words to describe Modiji’s journey, I would look no further than Robert Frost’s immortal lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. I wish him the very best for today and for the future as he leads the nation to sit on the top decision makers table in many different areas while ensuring that each Indian gets the opportunities that she or he deserves.