MODI@2: A hands-on PM with a ‘Presidential’ style of working

RICHA MISHRA | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on May 22, 2016

Narendra Modi

In the two years that Narendra Modi has been in office, his ‘style of governance’ has come in for frequent criticism on the ground that he is seen as a top-down, “control freak” administrator who doesn’t give much latitude to his Ministers and wades into the micro-details of policy.

But such assessments, says a close associate, speaking on condition of anonymity, are made by “people who do not know Modi or his style of functioning.”

According to senior civil servants serving at the Centre, Modi has a distinctive – perhaps ‘Presidential’ – style of functioning: he is more visible than other recent Prime Ministers and perhaps a tad flamboyant too.


But anecdotal accounts that he has a “schoolmaster’s way” of conducting Cabinet meetings are greatly exaggerated. “Yes, Modi is target-oriented, but these targets are set not by him, but by his Ministers,” says an official privy to the inner workings of the government. “In a way, he infuses competition among Ministers.”

The performance targets are set at the meetings of the Council of Ministers, of which four have been convened till now (the fifth is scheduled for May 25).

“At these sessions, a performance audit of each ministry is conducted to assess if targets have been achieved,” said a senior Minister. At the meetings, Ministers make data-laden presentations and set fresh goals.

“What the Prime Minister does is to take note of targets achieved or missed. If he finds something lagging, he gives his opinion bluntly,” said another Minister.

An official recalled that once, when Nitin Gadkari was setting his targets, it was Modi who wondered if they were achievable. Gadkari said he was confident, so the Prime Minister went along.

During these stock-taking exercises, Modi also tends to nudge his team into advancing target deadlines. Typically, he wants to work to a 2019 deadline, in time for the next general elections, so as to demonstrate that the NDA has delivered on its promises.

A collegium in place

“In any case,” notes a senior official, “there is no need to run to the Prime Minister for everything. There is a collegium of senior Ministers who can and do sort out issues.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley plays a key role in this collegium. Not only is he the chief communicator for the party, he is also its chief strategist. The other key Ministers are Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, and Manohar Parrikar.

One other manifestation of Modi’s unconventional style of governance is his direct outreach to senior bureaucrats. “This is not intended to undermine his Ministers,” said an official. “His approach is very professional.” In many cases, Modi feels that a civil servant’s inputs adds value to the policy-framing process, he adds.

Published on May 22, 2016
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