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Lessons in leadership: What Narendra Modi could learn from Sher Shah Suri

The anniversaries of Modi’s 2014 victory and Sher Shah Suri’s defeat of Humayun hold an opportunity to compare the two rulers.

On May 16, 2014, Narendra Modi secured the prime ministership of India, having led his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its allies to a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. On May 17, 1540, Sher Shah Suri won a decisive victory against the Mughal emperor Humayun in the battle of Kannauj. The parallels between the lives of the two leaders are striking. Like Modi, Sher Shah was brought up in a small Indian town and ran away from home in his teens following a family dispute. He found mentors who appreciated his talent and ambition, and furthered his career. He ruled a large province where he reorganised the administration. He outmanoeuvred better positioned peers to become leader of his clan. He was middle-aged by the time he faced his most important battle. His young adversary, born into one of Asia’s most renowned dynasties, was good-natured and well-meaning, but a little clueless and prone to indolence. He handed this opponent a comprehensive drubbing to ascend the throne of Delhi.

The similarities between the two leaders throw into sharp relief the divergences in their respective accomplishments. The Suri dynasty was the shortest-lived of the Delhi Sultanates, with Sher Shah himself dying a mere five years after his Kannauj triumph, killed by an accidental mine explosion during a siege. But he made those five years count the way few rulers anywhere in the world have done, instituting momentous reforms that for centuries changed the way India was governed.

In his first public comments after his 2014 win, Narendra Modi said he needed 10 years to transform India. His followers have been parroting that line ever since. The 10 year figure is a smoke screen. If one speaks of India’s journey to becoming a developed nation, a decade is nowhere close to sufficient. It will take us 20 years at a compounded annual GDP growth rate of 8% merely to equal China’s current per capita income level, and we have not touched that 8% rate even once under Modi’s government. On the other hand, if one focuses on course corrections and bold initiatives that set the foundations for long-term prosperity, two or three years with a parliamentary majority are sufficient to provide proofs of concept.

The much-derided United Progressive Alliance administration initiated in its first year a comprehensive work for pay scheme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the Right to Information Act, a radical law that did more for government transparency than anything adopted since India became a republic. Modi’s biggest accomplishment thus far has been overseeing the passage of the One Hundred and First Amendment to India’s Constitution, which introduced a national Goods and Services Tax. He deserves credit for it, though it is a muddled law with too many tax brackets, was conceived by the United Progressive Alliance, and was held up by BJP opposition led by Modi in his former role as Gujarat’s chief minister. When we think of legislation conceived by Modi, we find nothing in the pipeline remotely as ground-breaking as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act.

By: Girish Shahane

Source: Scroll