How Modi Created New Rules of the Game

Photo: Tehelka Archives
Photo: Tehelka Archives

A lot has been written about the amazing story of Narendra Modi, rising from a simple tea-stall owner to becoming the prime minister of the country. It was about the same time last year when I finally started writing Rules of the Game that Modi came out in the open to announce his desire to be the prime minister. I was told that he had mentioned it to many people in private earlier but that was the first time the nation came to know the intent very publicly. There have been many other leaders who have been contenders for the position but no one had stated their desire to be the PM so blatantly and so categorically.

It was a coincidence that I launched my book on the same day and same time as Modi’s swearing-in as the prime minister of India — 26 May at 6 pm. As I sat at the book launch, contemplating how the fate of my book is intertwined with the candidacy and ascendancy of Modi, it became more apparent that his life and his campaign make for a classic case-study of someone who has followed the rules of the game and become a champion and a creator of his own rules. Almost all the messages contained in Rules of the Game about charting a successful career were immensely applicable to Modi’s campaign and the eventual destination that he reached. I am sure this is an interim milestone for someone who is so determined and we will see many achievements even after Modi ceases to be the prime minister. Such are the rules of the game of successful people.

Rules of the game Discover, Learn, Invent the Art of Speeding Up Your Career Sumit D Chowdhury Bloomsbury India 228 pp;  Rs 399
Rules of the game
Discover, Learn, Invent the Art
of Speeding Up Your Career
Sumit D Chowdhury
Bloomsbury India
228 pp; Rs 399

Modi understood his impact on the world and had a deep desire to make a positive contribution to the world right from the beginning of his career in the RSS. He was willing to give up many things, including married life, and worked really hard from very humble beginnings. In the book, I talk about how really successful people and leaders make their intent clear and work very determinedly towards the outcome. Each and every one of us is actually destined for greatness. The problem is to find what this is and then to believe in it over a long period of time as you get good in whatever you want to do.

Modi never forgot the roots that he came from and always linked his future to his past. He could narrate this story with confidence and pride. The ability to relate your job, your personality and where you want to go, back to where you are coming from (inherited personality) and your experience, makes a lot of difference in being able to convince people about yourself. At the end, if you have to succeed, people have to believe you. Having a coherent story that links your life, improves your believability.

He took a leadership stance from the beginning and this enabled him to rise up the ranks in the RSS. And then, even without taking leadership roles in the BJP, he was able to prove his ability to deliver and convince the leadership to give him a chance. He did not sit on the side waiting for the leadership to recognise him. He walked up to the leadership and to the people, and demanded that they look at him and his achievements. As a leader, you cannot always let word-of-mouth publicity get you somewhere. You have to force your way through the various filters of the world. You have to work hard to convince people. It is not obvious that everyone will know you or even understand you.

He was a possibilitarian — he knew the challenges, but also realised that it was possible for him to become the PM many years before he really declared his intent. He just had to improve the probabilities. He broke down the problem and tackled each area over a period of time. He did not try to prove everything in the eight months when he was campaigning for the election. So to become successful, you cannot keep your minor achievements a secret and hope to tell the world everything at the end. You have to create a story of success at all times.

He made sacrifices — both personal and professional — to achieve his goals, but never used those sacrifices as a crutch to get sympathy. He came clean about his marriage and made it clear why that sacrifice was necessary. It was not just for show. He has continued to maintain the separation that he had practised over 40 years.

His performance in his core area (the Gujarat model) built up his credibility and he used that success to project his candidature. You have to always look at your past successes and be able to join the dots for the next role. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, had only inheritance to rely on — not skill, experience or desire. His campaign was not connected to his past or that of the Congress. The disconnect between words and action was clearly visible.

His communication skills were very clear — first, it was designed to capture the hearts and minds in the local language of Gujarati, and then it matured to address national audiences in Hindi. Recently, at the launch of the PSLV, he made his first English speech and he really worked hard to learn the new trick as he realised the importance of capturing the hearts and minds of the intellectuals to help him achieve his goals.

He built up a brand on what he represents and remained true to it till the very end. He understood what the world thought about him and he was not comfortable with it if he had to win. He put a large PR campaign in place to change what he wanted the world to understand about him, but that campaign never changed the core product — the core beliefs of Narendra Modi. Instead, it highlighted it in ways that could be understood at different levels. He did not compromise the product to sell it. He just amplified it and let the people decide.

Modi had a core support group but he also built up an additional strong network of support groups and made his campaign into a group project.

Many others attached themselves to his campaign and amplified the positive energy and resources that were made available to him. He reached out to movie stars like Rajnikant, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan etc, sports-persons, music stars, corporate champions and youth champions, and they all started pushing the same message. This conscious networking and spreading of the positive message really aided his campaign. His slogans and promises made this project something that the network of supporters started owning themselves. They did things on their own, instead of waiting for direction from the BJP central command. To succeed in life, you have to make your personal goals the same as or aligned with the goals of your team and your network. This will make the campaign viral and the leverage cannot be measured.

He did not take anyone for granted. His peers were also his competitors till the very end. He knew that if he did not get a clear majority, there would be enough people in the party who would clamour for the position of prime minister. He did not look down upon them but used that energy to ensure a BJP majority in Parliament.

Modi’s campaign will be remembered for years to come and many books will be written about him and his campaign — in hindsight. It is great to see how this book, Rules of the Game, got written before or almost alongside this collective act in the greatest show of democracy on earth.


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