One of the advantages of international trips is the conversations with fellow travellers. After dinner at the Indian ambassador’s residence, when we returned to the hotel, a couple of colleagues invited me for a stroll in the nearby Wangfujing Street. I readily agreed.
That walk brought back memories of my first visit to Beijing almost 8 years ago with my wife, Bhavana, when we had stayed at the Holiday Inn nearby and spent many hours walking down this street, and then onward to Tianamen Square and visiting the Forbidden City. This time around, it was late at night and most shops were closed. It is in these walks and talks that friendships are formed.
These late night conversations happened daily and I gradually got to know most of the people in the delegation. We would talk about politics, India, China – and a variety of other things. For a person like me who is not given to much socialising, this was quite a new experience.
One general point across conversations that stood out was the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi and the wonders that he had worked in Gujarat. Hearing the stories first hand from business people about the speed and transparency of decision-making and the clean administration gave me hope that one day, perhaps the same can be replicated across India and the gap between India and China in infrastructure and development will actually start narrowing.
A Conversation with Mr. Modi
The next day morning (Thursday, Nov 10), we left Beijing for Shanghai. On the flight, Mr. Narendra Modi invited me for a chat. I was pleasantly surprised but ready. I had made a list of points that I wanted to discuss if I got the opportunity to spend time with him.
I spoke about the need for using technology much more in e-governance, with some very specific ideas on what needed to be done. Many of these were drawn from my experience in the state over the past year. Mr. Modi listened attentively, and asked me for a detailed note on the couple of the ideas that could then be discussed with the appropriate officers.
What struck me in the conversation was how attentive he was. He listened carefully, and never once interrupted me. He gave appropriate suggestions which advanced the ideas I was suggesting, and concluded by detailing out what needed to be done next.
For me, this conversation was a revelation. There was such a different between the image of Mr. Modi created by the media and the person I sat next to and talked on the flight. I have met many Indian leaders from both the BJP and Congress in the past years. As I tell friends, with most of them, one can barely speak for a few minutes before they take over the conversation. It is almost as if they have attained supreme wisdom – and their only purpose is to preach, not listen.
That conversation with Mr. Modi will remain etched in my memory. I have written often about the leadership and decisiveness that India needs at the top. As I sat interacting with him, the realisation came that this was the type of person India needed to transform the nation. Of course, successful politicians are known to be charming and charismatic. Combine that with an earthiness and an ability to execute, and you have the winning combination that a country so desperately needs but so rarely gets.
We arrived in Shanghai and went straight to the Shangri-La in Pudong. I skipped the afternoon visit to the deepwater sea port since I had a business meeting of my own. In the evening, there was an interaction with the Indian Association of Shanghai. Mr. Modi spoke in Hindi about Gujarat and how he addressed some of the challenges the state faced.
It was then that Mr. Modi spoke of the model that has helped China and what he has also focused on in Gujarat. He called it the 3S model: Scale, Speed and Skills.
A thought then struck me: development is in the details. The attention Mr. Modi and the state focused on getting every aspect of the value chain right was what made all the difference.
The next day (Friday, November 11), we had two meetings – at the Shanghai Municipal Corporation, followed by a visit to the Shanghai Motors-General Motors auto factory. Gujarat is emerging as a huge auto hub – it will produce 5 million vehicles in the next few years.
As we drove around Shanghai and then to the airport, the sheer scale of development amazed me. . As I told a colleague, India seems a miniature model to what we see in China. A comment made in a discussion has stayed with me: thirty years ago, China was 20 years behind India. Now, India is 20 years behind China.
China has shown that change can be done in a single generation. Our generation in India has to take up the challenge of building the New India – while we still can.