Who is likely to take more risks – the one who expects to gain more than the potential losses or vice versa? Conventional wisdom suggests you go with the former. But the ‘superman’ that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become for a lot of Indians, taking big risks and pulling them off has become the new normal. Why does it pay for him to be a gambler?
Before proceeding further, here is a snapshot of some of the recent instances of what were perceived to be risky decisions taken by the prime minister.
The decision to go public with the news of surgical strikes inside Pakistani territory was viewed with a lot of scepticism.
There were apprehensions of retaliatory action from across the border. Cross-border terrorism was feared to go up. None of that has happened. What we have witnessed, fortunately, is the spiking of a conciliatory tone in Pakistan. The global community too has either been supportive or has stayed away from the developments in the aftermath of the surgical strikes.
Bigger The Risk, Bigger The Payoff
The second instance of an even bigger risk was the demonetisation announcement. It was apprehended to deliver a crippling blow to the economy. Consumption collapsed, corporates’ profits fell sharply, foreign investors pulled out money from Indian bourses and the move caused untold inconvenience to people. Public sentiment, however, remained supportive of the move and the prime minister’s goodwill remained intact.
The third risky bet was to enter the electoral fray in politically significant Uttar Pradesh without a credible local face as the chief ministerial candidate. That, in fact, has turned out to be a bonanza with the Bharatiya Janata Party breaking all electoral records in the state.
Accumulated Anger of Disparate Groups Sees a Hope in Modi
Why does being unconventional work for Modi? For some (especially the upper caste), he is seen as a leader who will rid the country of the damages done by the politics of social justice (read reservation). For many others, he seems to be decisive enough to end the politics of appeasement (it is immaterial whether appeasement indeed is taking place or is just a perception). For a vast majority, Modi is a strongman who can rain jobs and make India great again.
His connect with the world leaders, his frequent foreign visits, his big announcements (let us remember that big announcements are rarely backed by concrete delivery plans and are therefore out of scrutiny) and his superhuman like speeches promising end of corruption and black money, are ingredients that have contributed to the making of the legend of Modi.
The underlying message is the decisive, but benevolent Modi, a complete anti-thesis of some of his recent predecessors who lived with the tag of being weak and whose regimes suffered because of policy paralysis.
What are seen as risky moves by commentators are therefore perceived as the traits of a bold and decisive leader and they end up contributing to the Modi legend. The more risks he takes, the more decisive he is seen to be.
Will The Yogi Gamble Be Difficult to Handle?
The reputation of being decisive is a trait Modi had acquired for himself years before he entered the national scene. So impressed was the then chairman of Tata Group, Ratan Tata, with the speed of decision-making by the then Modi-led Gujarat government that he decided to shift his long-pending Nano project from Singur in West Bengal to Sanand in Gujarat.
The decision to shift reportedly was made in 24 hours and it took another 24 for all regulatory clearances to come through. Getting the Nano project in Gujarat was considered as one of the turning points in Modi’s career and there has been no turning back since then.
But even by Modi’s immense risk-taking abilities, is the decision to let Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindutva proponent and fiercely independent leader, take charge of Uttar Pradesh, going to backfire? For a control-freak like Modi, keeping Yogi in check is going to be a tall ask.
And let us not forget that the ascension of Adityanath may yield electoral dividend in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But the brand Modi and the kind of things it represents is not very similar to what Adityanath stands for. While Modi has acquired the reputation of a doer, Adityanath is seen as an ever angry leader. Will the two brands coalesce?
Given Modi’s propensity to turn every adversity into an opportunity thus far, he may be able to pull this one off too. But it will be interesting to see who blinks first.