Narendra Modi has completed 19 years as a top administrator and his journey from being a chief minister to a prime minister has entered its 20th year, making him a rare personality in Indian politics. After spending around a little less than 13 years in Gujarat as CM, he has been the PM of the country since May 2014. The question is, from whom does Modi — who has inspired many world leaders — draw inspiration? The list is long.
On October 7, 2001, Modi entered the world of administration. Before that, he was a Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since 1971. After spending three decades in the Sangh as a Pracharak, also serving as the BJP’s central organisational secretary, Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani seconded his name.
Modi had no administrative experience before he took over as the CM of Gujarat. The only expertise that he had was the organisational skills which he had in abundance and he used them in bringing people together, to strengthen the party and making new experiments in politics. When Modi became the chief minister, he did not even have the experience of running a panchayat. At that time, he had not even fought an assembly election. It is another matter though that he had played a major role in getting the BJP to power in 1995 in Gujarat. He had also headed the BJP campaign committee in the 1998 Gujarat assembly elections to pave the way for the party’s victory. Apart from this, he had already impressed his party with his work in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and other states.
But till then he had no hands-on administrative experience and he accepted this while chairing a meeting with top officials of Gujarat after he became CM. Modi had his task cut out for him. In post-earthquake Gujarat, relief and rehabilitation was a major challenge and the administration was facing a slew of criticism. His predecessor Keshubhai Patel had to leave the post for this reason. Before this, the BJP had lost crucial panchayat, assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
Narendra Modi took the reins of the administration and responded with the speed of someone attempting to win a one-day match that turned into a marathon test innings which has lasted 19 years and is entering the 20th. Nobody knows when this innings is going to end – neither his supporters nor his opponents, who have been outwitted by him on numerous occasions in poll battles.
Over the past 19 years, much has been written all over the world about his administrative style. As chief minister, he had developed the ‘Gujarat model of development’ and popularised it across the country; it got him elected to Parliament and helped him become the Prime Minister. His was the first non-Congress government in 2014 to have full majority. After that, he led his party to victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well and was rewarded by the electorate with an even greater majority. His government is going to last till 2024, and, be it the public or pundits, no one is giving the opposition a chance before 2029. So how long Modi’s administrative period lasts will be either decided by the man himself or the people of this country.
Now the question is who inspired Modi to become such an efficient administrator? Who are those people from whom he learnt the tricks of the trade? Hundreds of books have been written on Modi but no one has dealt with this issue at length.
Modi has given ample indication about this on several occasions. The first glimpse was in 2014, when he was filing his nomination from Vadodara for the general elections. That year, he had filed his nomination first from Vadodara before doing so from Varanasi. At that time, on April 9, 2014, when he was speaking to the media in Vadodara, it offered an insight into his inspiration as an administrator.
Vadodara, once a model of development and administrative acumen, was ruled by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, in whose name the city is also called Sayaji Nagari. Modi remembered Sayajirao that day, heaping praise on him, and not just as a mere formality.
Modi said that to know about Sayajirao’s skills in administration and self-governance, one should read the book ‘Minor Hints’. It surprised not just the media persons but also millions of people watching and listening to him on TV at the time. They wanted to know what was this ‘Minor Hints’ and why was Modi waxing eloquent about Sayajirao?
‘Minor Hints’ is a collection of speeches which was given to a 12-year-old boy Gopal, born on March 11, 1863, in Kavlana village of Maharashtra, in his preparation to become the ruler of the kingdom of Baroda. Gopal was adopted by the ruler of this kingdom, Maharaja Khanderao Gaekwad, from a distant relative, Kashiram Gaekwad. After the death of Khanderao, his widow, Maharani Jamnabai, adopted the boy on May 27, 1875.
Gopal was taught the royal ways before he could be placed on the throne and about 150 speeches delivered by experts and senior officials were part of that education process. Of these, 46 speeches were delivered by the-then diwan T Madhava Rao, which formed the book ‘Minor Hints’. This book is famous as ‘Shasan Sutra’ in Gujarati and is revered like the Gita in the administration and is gifted to officials at the beginning of their career.
T Madhava Rao had trained Sayajirao Gaekwad and had taught him all the practical aspects of the administration which included how an administrator should behave, how he should keep himself away from sycophants and how to spend day and night thinking about one’s subjects. Madhava Rao himself was a very talented man and was rightly given the title of Raja. He told Sayajirao that flatterers try to surround every administrator and they tell the king that the nation is made for him and not that he is made for the nation. In that situation, a king immediately thinks that administration is his paternal right and he considers his subjects as nothing. Madhava Rao had warned Sayajirao about this and told him not to behave irresponsibly as his responsibilities were immense. He also told him that the ultimate aim of an administrator was to keep his subjects happy.
With such education and training, Gopal was made the ruler of the kingdom when he was 18 years old and he was given the royal name of Sayajirao Gaekwad III. He ruled for 58 years and died in 1939. In his lengthy career as an administrator, he was known for caring about his subjects, and promoting reforms, scientific thinking, development of basic infrastructure, empowerment of women, education, etc. There are many famous stories about his patriotism. In 1911, he did not bow before the King of England who presided as the Emperor of India in the Delhi darbar and helped Sri Aurobindo and other revolutionaries and freedom fighters, risking British displeasure.
That Sayajirao Gaekwad has been an inspiration for Modi was apparent on several other occasions. During his first tenure as PM, when Modi was taking part in a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on women’s education, he had mentioned Sayaji. Modi had said that in the reign of Sayajirao Gaekwad, not a single woman was illiterate, though some instances could be found after his rule. That’s how much emphasis Sayajirao put on women’s education.
Even Narendra Modi knew this from experience. His native place Vadnagar, where he was born, was previously in Mehsana which was under the Gaekwad kingdom. The school and its library where Modi read innumerable books were opened during the reign of Sayajirao Gaekwad III. Modi was born just 11 years after Gaekwad’s death and it was but natural that people still talked about Sayaji. When Modi grew up, he came to know about the many talents of the king.
Modi also praised Sayajirao Gaekwad when he participated in his 150th birth anniversary celebrations in 2012 in Vadodara. In his speech, Modi had said that he comes from a place which has been part of the Gaekwad administration and even today every auspicious work is started in Sayajirao’s name. Modi said that after being born in an ordinary family, brought up in a royal household and taking charge of the kingdom of Baroda at 18, Sayaji’s work in administrative reforms continues to find resonance among the people 70 years after his death.
Obviously, Modi has not only read ‘Minor Hints’ very minutely but has also been inspired by Sayajirao’s life and regime which he has adopted in his own life. After his early days as a Pracharak in Vadodara to becoming the CM in 2001 and as PM of the country for the past 6 years, he has always given the impression that his sole aim is to serve the people of this country. And that is why he has presented himself not as the Prime Minister but as the Pradhan Sevak of the citizens.
In his run as CM and PM over 19 years, Modi has ensured that benefits of government schemes reach the lowest strata of the society. His policies have been framed keeping in mind the situation of the disadvantaged people. That is why, in Gujarat, after taking over as CM, he kept tribal people, fishermen, Dalits and backward communities at the centre of his planning. After he became PM, he ensured that policies are framed to help women, farmers and the poorest of the poor in the country, and that is why today he is the darling of the masses.
Sycophants have not been able to surround him and he has kept himself connected with the people. That is why, Modi, today, is available to everyone. He always knows what is happening on the ground. Out of Delhi, he visits the hinterland, stays in touch with the people and their problems, and solves these issues. Not a single day goes by without him meeting the common people.
During Parliament sessions, people from all over the country come to meet him: from poor fishermen to ordinary farmers. He finds time for everyone but does not waste even a second. He is punctual and understands the value of time. He never takes leaves and works for 18-19 hours every day. It is obvious that his opponents today can neither match his energy nor his willpower. Rivals appear like stray clouds. After a bit of thunder and lightning, they quickly disappear to Thailand, Europe or America .
Modi is still a mystery for his political rivals. When he came into the administration, he did not have practical knowledge to run it. He was taught the intricacies of administration by IAS officer PK Mishra. Modi had appointed him his principal secretary in 2001 just after he took oath as CM. Modi himself has talked about how Mishra helped him in administration, and taught him the pros and cons.
Modi had so much faith in Mishra that after he retired as agriculture secretary during the UPA administration, Modi appointed him as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission and then made him chairman of Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management. From there, he came straight to Delhi when Modi became PM in 2014. Mishra was made his additional principal secretary. Since then, PK Mishra has continuously been with him and now in Modi’s second term, he occupies the post of principal secretary and helps the PM formulate important policy decisions.
Modi has always tried to learn new things in the past two decades, from teachers at IIM Ahmedabad to eminent jurist VR Krishna Iyer whom he met by visiting Kerala. He has always been a learner which has helped him in becoming an efficient administrator. That is precisely why leaders from across the country and the world are trying to pick up tips from him on how to be a good administrator, have a finger on the pulse of the people and try innovations in governance for public welfare.
From CM to PM, the list of his experiments is long and they are part of hundreds of books and lakhs of articles. Yet Modi, who once learnt from Sayajirao Gaekwad, is still learning and trying new things. With his newly grown beard, some people see a glimpse of Shivaji in him. After all, Modi is constantly striving to realise the dream to implement the Hindavi Swarajya philosophy of this great patriot. Modi has a special fondness for the mega play based on Shivaji’s life called ‘Janata Raja’ and had seen it many decades ago and ensured its public enactment in every part of Gujarat when he was CM there. Modi has not stopped learning and that too when other world leaders are vying to learn the intricacies of administration from him.