On the flight back, Mr. Narendra Modi called all of us to the front of the aircraft and asked us our views on the visit, and what could have been done better. We were told that this was something he does on every trip. The novelty of this exercise was as surprising as it was instructive.
The debrief lasted about two hours, as each one of us, by turn, went through our points. Mr. Modi and his A-team of Mr. Maheshwar Sahu, Mr. A. K. Sharma and Mr. Bharat Lal noted all our points. Most of the feedback covered the specific actions that needed to be done as follow-ups, and some bigger measures that had to be done for closer ties between Gujarat and China.
One of the comments made by a colleague who had travelled with Prime Ministers and senior ministers was telling. He said that never before had the business delegation been accorded so much respect as this one. In general, business delegations are treated as ‘second-class citizens’ left to fend for themselves. In this visit, they were treated the same way as the government members and Mr. Modi – and that made a big difference in how the Chinese perceived them. Mr. Modi had involved each one of the delegation members in every aspect of the trip – from the political to the business to the cultural meetings. There had been no hierarchy. This had never been seen or done before in official government and business delegations.
As we made our way to the baggage area, there was a sense of loss with the realisation that our visit and togetherness was drawing to a close. I had formed many new bonds during this visit. When I boarded the flight, the only person I knew to some extent was Mr. Narendra Modi. Now, as we landed, it was like we had all become one large, happy family!
It was the thoughtfulness of the organisers that also made a difference. While all the food everywhere was vegetarian, they also ensured Jain food for me on the flights. Travel and all the other co-ordination was perfect, thanks to the efforts of the Indian consulate members across the cities.
Our late-night walks and conversations, the chat rooms that our buses became, taking in some of the sights of China, driving through without having to worry about traffic signals (there was a police car to clear the way for us everywhere we went), the conversation with Mr. Narendra Modi, the connections with the other members of the delegation – the memories will endure. .
This was my fifth visit to China in the past decade. Each visit has been special in its own way. This one was no different. We have a lot to learn from China. At the same time, we have a lot going for us in India – if we can combine the richness of our civilization with the youthful energy that permeates our population, we can transform India into a developed nation within a generation. But for that, we will have to come together to give ourselves something we have never done – a real leader.
A Real Leader like Mr. Modi
As I watched Mr. Narendra Modi listen patiently to each one of us during the debriefing session on the flight back from Chengdu to Ahmedabad, I started thinking again of the attributes of the leadership that India really needs. A real leader always listens and never stops learning. Those two hours were embodiment of what our country needs, and is unfortunately not getting enough of.
In this context, a quote I read in an article by Thomas Friedman recently is so apt: “At the end of the day — whether you are a president, senator, mayor or on the steering committee of your local Occupy Wall Street — someone needs to meld those ideas into a vision of how to move forward, sculpt them into policies that can make a difference in peoples’ lives and then build a majority to deliver on them. Those are called leaders. Leaders shape polls. They don’t just read polls. And, today, across the globe and across all political systems, leaders are in dangerously short supply.”
My biggest takeaway from this visit was the business-like approach of Mr. Modi to everything he said and did. This was leadership in word and action. In a country where we have been singularly unfortunate in our political leadership through the decades since Independence, we have a shining example in our midst. Unfortunately, many of us, blinded by the one-sided drivel that we have been fed by the media about Mr. Modi in the past decade, refuse to see it. Once again, the Chinese have seen the future. This time around, I hope we will too.