Leadership, Communication and PM's Conference
A leader communicates in four ways – First and foremost through his or her personality. Then through his actions. Next through what he says, and how he says it.
All these four modes of communication form the public perception about a leader. In a media-driven democracy like ours, there is of course a fifth factor that influences public perception about a leader, that is, what his opponents and the media say about him.
If the afore-mentioned four modes of communication are good, a leader need not bother about the negative observations of the media and his political opponents. However, if there is anything lacking in the former four determinants of the public perception of a leader, the impact can be wounding.
This happened to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. His press conference in New Delhi on January 3 evoked largely negative comments on the media ─ interestingly, some in the media who are deriding his performance today had called him ‘Singh the King’ after the UPA returned to power in 2009.
As a person, Dr. Manmohan Singhji has sterling qualities. And this is known to all those who know him closely. (I first met him in 1993, he was the Finance Minister then and he had granted a long interview to Blitz, which I was a part of with the weekly’s legendary founder-editor R.K. Karanjia.) Even though corruption scandals in his government have done the most to hurt his and his party’s image, not even his bitterest critics can question his incorruptibility.
As far as his actions are concerned, during his decade-long tenure as India’s prime minister, many being good or average, some are bad and indefensible. Which is why, in a TV debate on TIMES NOW last night, I strongly disagreed with the remark of the anchor and a few other panelists that Dr. Singh’s prime ministerial performance has been “disastrous”.
I said, “Disappointing, most certainly. But disastrous? By no means. Our assessment of his performance should be objective, comprehensive, all-sided and balanced. The failures of his government are well known. But let us not berate India’s accomplishments in the past ten years. It’s wrong to say that the past ten years have been only gloom and doom for India.” It is not fair to negate the contribution of the Prime Minister’s quiet actions to India’s accomplishments since 2004.
As I said, the failures of his government are well known. Despite his personal incorruptibility, Dr. Singh failed to take timely and strong action in the case of the corruption scandals that rocked his second term in office. He thereby lost a lot of his political and personality capital. Similarly, despite a fairly creditable management of the macro-economy ─ who can deny that India as a whole is far more prosperous nation in the past ten years? ─ his government failed to check rising prices of essential commodities and services, which have greatly increased miseries of the common people.
It can be said that Dr. Singh has performed really badly in articulating his thoughts and actions. He has certainly been the most non-communicative prime minister India has had. This is what I said on TIMES NOW: “The Prime Minister of India holds the most powerful office in the country. He is not only the head of the Council of Ministers, but also the leader of the nation. The people of India expect their prime minister to converse with them regularly.”
The people of India continue to repose their faith in an honest leader when he engages in a candid and self-critical communication with the people, explaining the constraints he is facing. However, the one quality they expect in their prime minister is responsiveness. They, especially young Indians, had a lot of questions and concerns in the past 3-4 years, which they had been expressing uninhibitedly through the social media – and also in other ways.
But when they found little response from the prime minister, they began to lose faith in the man who, along with the Congress president, had led his party to a bigger victory in 2009 than in 2004.
After Jawaharlal Nehru, no prime minister has had a smooth ride in office. And leading a coalition government that is far from cohesive, creates its own bumps in the journey. This makes it even more necessary for the prime minister to communicate with the people – with different sections of the society – in credible, innovative and effective ways. Whatever the compulsions and constraints may have been, Dr. Singh has failed to do so.
Dr. Singh is not a mass political leader. In spite of this, he has managed to lead a government at the Centre for ten long years, thereby becoming the third longest serving prime minister in the history of Independent India. This is not a mean achievement. We should never belittle the importance of political stability at the Centre in a large country like India, with its immense diversities and challenges.
As India approaches a long or short spell of instability at the Centre- post 2014 Lok Sabha elections, people – and political pundits – will better appreciate the value of stability. In this sense, history will surely be kinder to Dr. Manmohan Singh ji than the contemporary conclusions of the media.
One last thought: Dr. Manmohan Singh ji should speak out his mind as often and as candidly as he can in the remaining four or five months of his prime ministerial tenure. It is necessary for his legacy.
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