Modi's style of leadership is out of tune with the 21st century: Shashi Tharoor

Interview/Shashi Tharoor

  • Published 11.02.18
Shashi Tharoor

Calcutta: Charismatic Shashi Tharoor, a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), Union minister under Manmohan Singh, and a two-time INC member of the Lok Sabha, spoke to The Telegraph late on Friday.

All that apart, Tharoor is big on cricket and this Reporter's first two interactions with him were both in England, during Test matches featuring India.

"I have captained cricket XIs, though my last claim to fame is having been at the helm when the MEA XI went down to the British High Commission XI in a thundering defeat," Tharoor, 61, quipped.

The interview, by the way, took place during the nearly 40-minute drive from the airport to the Oberoi Grand, where Tharoor is staying during his latest visit to the city.

Tharoor is a Xaverian ("like Sourav Ganguly") and studied at the South Calcutta address for three years.

Clearly, for a length of time, the city was "very much home" for Tharoor before he became a globetrotter.


Q What are the qualities a leader should have in order to be considered inspirational?

A Whatever the field, a good leader has to at least have three qualities: The ability, obviously, to inspire. That means communication has to be effective, the type which will motivate... Next is the ability to lead by example. If, in the context of cricket, you are seen as a captain who doesn't deserve a place, then your authority will definitely suffer... Lastly, the ability to let your followers feel that the victory is theirs, not yours. In every field, a leader should not be I, I and me... Be it winning an election or a game of cricket, or even improving the sales record, the team must feel we did it. If one person takes all the credit and hogs the limelight, then I'm afraid the team will not be motivated the next time.

Q To talk of your current field, politics... Is there a leader who captivated you? And, why?

A Earlier, I had a different relation with politics. I was an observer of it from my life as a student and even during my years at the UN. For the last nine years, of course, I'm into politics myself... When I speak of leaders of the decades gone by, then I'm really speaking as an outsider. Today, I have a ringside seat. So, my views of that period and now would be different... To take a broad view, the leaders who stood out then had different qualities.

Q Leaders like?

A Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, undoubtedly inspired a tremendous amount of awe and respect among his followers. Whether, in the process, Nehru let them feel they too were part of his triumphs and victories is where the debate starts. To my mind, I'll say Nehru did. He believed in building institutions, despite personally towering over India like a colossus... One saw a number of things seemingly trivial, such as Nehru's public show of respect to the President, the Vice-President. It was meant to suggest they outrank the Prime Minister in terms of protocol and they mattered. It was about showing respect. To the Chief Justice of India as well... Nehru did make people feel they were part of his success.

Q After Nehru...

A Indira Gandhi was little different. She believed in inspiring people herself and did a lot all by herself. Indira was so many steps ahead of her followers and her team that I'm not sure anybody ever felt the same degree of ownership in her actions.

Q What about Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister at this point in time?

A Mr Modi's style of leadership is, in my view, out of tune with the 21st century. He is like a man on a white stallion with upraised sword who says I have all the answers, I know everything. I will solve all your problems, I will cut through the Gordian knot... A one-man show was feasible in the days gone by, but in a complex 21st century, the ability to build a team is far more important. In the BJP, we don't see that. Hardly any (Union) minister feels he has any authority over his own portfolio or command over his own ministry. There may be one exception or maybe two, but every decision has to be referred to the PMO. Speeches, all major policies... They are all made by the Prime Minister and, in the end, it becomes a one-man show. That is a big flaw when you look back at the leadership style of Mr Modi.

Q Rahul Gandhi has recently taken over as president of the INC. Has he got cracking or still needs time?

A The Gujarat campaign showed that Rahul is ready to take centre stage and he has got cracking. Rahul has a tremendous amount of energy, commitment, a tremendous amount of appeal and is focused. Rahul does have the charisma one wants in a political leader... You've asked about time, well, Rahul doesn't require more of that. He took time before his ascent and moved up when ready.

Q One more... How could Virat Kohli, at the helm across the three formats, improve as captain?

A Watching from the outside, one wouldn't be seeing the internal dynamics of the team. But, much as I admire Virat, I think he could consult a little more. I have never considered it a weakness in a leader if he takes advice. Ultimately, of course, the captain makes his decisions... Occasionally, Virat does publicly consult (predecessor Mahendra Singh) Dhoni, but I really do not know if he consults anybody else in the dressing room. I do not have first-hand knowledge, but it was said that Virat got Anil Kumble removed as he didn't want a head coach who would stand up to him.