Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Narendra Modi, The Great Time Management Guru

"And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep." Robert Frost.




Narendra Modi, The Great Time Management Guru

 





The smooth passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Parliament to introduce the GST regime should not be viewed as the beginning of liking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his detractors. They will always remain hostile to him because the success of a charismatic leader like him who is determined to change India will seriously damage their political ambitions. The detractors’ problem is that Modi is trying to work for all-round improvement, from removing dirt and filth from India’s villages and towns to removing dust that had accumulated on India’s image abroad, as if he does not want to leave anything for others. In such a scenario, to keep themselves relevant, the detractors have to keep on attacking Modi on some pretext or the other, They attack him when he does not say anything about attacks on Muslims or Dalits or against the self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’   (protectors of cows) and find fault with him when he criticises those who are attacking Muslims or Dalits or when he pulls up those ‘gau rakshaks.’  

  Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Modi started visiting foreign countries, one after another.  That provided a new ground for attacking him. In September, 2015,  just when  he had commenced his US visit,  the Congress party dubbed him as  “NRI PM” because out of  the 15 months in power he had  spent “3.5 months outside India”,  making 29 tips on which “almost  Rs. 200  crore of public money had been spent.” (Obviously, the Congress has a poor knowledge of arithmetic; the Prime Minister had spent only 77 days on his visit to 29 countries including   USA.) The Congress questioned “the result of these visits.” In December 2015, just before the Prime Minister was  to board a plane for his first visit to Russia, Congress supremo No. 2, Rahul Gandhi, always quick to enlighten the  public with his  ‘profound’ knowledge and understanding of everything,  declared that “The PM is travelling abroad regularly, but people in those countries are very clever. These tours will not benefit India," Around the same time, the Trinamul Congress also declared him “NRI Prime Minister”. Arvind Kejriwal, who thinks that his only political competitor is Narendra Modi, has attacked the PM for going abroad to seek investments in India.

After initial attacks on foreign visits, for some time the detractors did not find the subject very attractive.   The interest was revived when despite warmth shown by Modi, Pakistan and China continued to be hostile. The Chinese hostility to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), gave opportunity to the Congress to reject the claim made by the BJP and the government that PM’s foreign tools had been a big strategic and diplomatic success. The Congress spokesperson declared that China “has never been so belligerent in the past 29 years.”   

Diplomatic visits are not unable to cost-benefit analysis, how much has been spent and how much has been gained in terms of rupees or dollar.    Whatever the critics may say,  it is a common knowledge that  Modi’s foreign visits,  to the Western countries in particular, has significantly improved India’s image which had become very low.  His each foreign visit, especially in the western countries, was widely acclaimed not only by the political leaders but also by the people in those countries and was widely covered by the media.   On the other hand, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visits did not make any news in those countries.  I remember, once Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US was reported by only one newspaper in that country and that too in a very small paragraph.  

The limitations of improving relationship with the China and Pakistan can be appreciated by any rational person. The hostility of neighbouring countries it is quite common.   Only a naive person would expect that visits to China and Pakistan, or giving leaders of those countries warm welcome in India, will change their policies.   Modi’s detractors are attacking him today for continued hostility of China and Japan.  However, had he not taken initiative to reduce the old hostility with these neighbours, the same critics would have dubbed him as ‘undiplomatic’ and ‘incapable of dealing with hostile neighbours’.

Well, let us leave the job of evaluation of foreign trips in terms of diplomatic success or failure to diplomats and strategists.   Here I am concentrating on a limited issue: time management by the PM to cover maximum number of countries in minimum time, something his detractors will never like to admit.

On June 14, 2016, I submitted an online application under the Right to Information Act to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to collect information about the number of countries visited, the number of days spent on foreign visits, the amount of public money spent on those visits and the amount of personal allowances claimed by Dr. Manmohan Singh as PM and by Narendra Modi, the present PM. On July 14, the PMO sent an interim replied that “the matter is being processed by the office and reply/information will be sent as soon as it is received.”  The final reply dated July 28, 2016 stated that  “Information relating to the foreign visits and expenses incurred on flights during the foreign visits of Shri Narendra Modi, PM, and  Dr. Manmohan Singh,  former PM, are  available on the PMO website: pmindia.gov.in/righttoinformation-rti.” Information about the personal allowances received by either former or present PM was not furnished on the ground that “PM’s pay &, allowances are given as per the provisions of the ‘Salaries and Allowances of Ministers Act, 1952’, amended from time to time.”

I do not know why the PMO took so much time to give the reply that the information sought was available on its website.  Perhaps – this is only my guess – there was not much information on the website earlier.   When I visited the website today (August 09, 2016), I saw information about former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee also (from January 1999 though he had become PM on March 16, 1998). For the two former PMs one can find information about the countries visited, duration of each visit and the expenses incurred on chartered flights for each visit.   For the present PM, while the details of countries visited and the duration of each visit are given, information on expenses incurred on flights is limited.  So far  PM  Modi has made 24 trips covering 51 countries but details of expenses are available only for  five trips;   five trips were made in Indian Air Force  aircraft; for the remaining  14 trips the bill has either not been ‘received’ or is ‘under process’.

The information about the number of countries visited and the number of days spent on each visit by the two former PMs and the present PM, as gathered from the website of the PMO, is summarised below.  Since the present PM has been in office only for 807 days (till today, i.e. August 9, 2016),   to make a fair comparison,  I have calculated  the number of countries visited  and the number of days spent on each  visit  by the two former PMs  during  their first  807  days in office. 


No. of Days as PM
No. of countries visited
No. of days spent on visit
Average No. of days per country
No. of countries visited during first 807 days
No. of days spent on visit
Average No. of days per country








Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
2257  
31
133
4.29
5 (since January 1999)
18
3.60








Dr. Manmohan Singh
3575
51
173
3.39
21
84
4.00








Narendra Modi (up to Aug 9, 2016)
807
51
111
2.18
51
111
2.18

( For the purpose of calculation of number of days  in office  I have excluded the last day of  Vajpayee and  Manmohan Singh in office  because  on each of the last two days a new PM took over.   For the purpose of calculation of number of  days spent on each foreign visit, I  have included the  first as well as the last day.   It is quite possible that when the  period of journey is mentioned as  “30  March    03 April”, the PM left  in late hours of  March 30  and returned  in the early hours of April 03, the effective number of days is less than 5  days.  It is also possible that the journey started just when March 30 was starting and ended when April 03 was ending.   To avoid any confusion, in such a case I have counted  the day of the start of the journey as day one  and the day of the end of the journey  as the last day. In the illustration given, the number of days comes to 5. Since the same methodology has been adopted for all the three dignitaries, there should not be any charge of bias.)

True,  PM Modi  has visited  as many as 51 countries  till date (807 days in office) while  Manmohan Singh visited  exactly the same number of countries during 10 years and  only 21 countries  during his first 807 days.   However, those who criticise Modi for spending too much time on foreign trips should note that during his first 807 Manmohan Singh spent 84 days on visiting just 21 countries – on an average 4.0 days per country as against only 2.1 days per country by PM   Modi.   During the 10 years of his prime ministership, Manmohan Singh took, on an average, 3.18 days to visit one country.   Atal Bihari Vajpayee (between January 1999 - May 22, 2004) visited 31 countries, spending 4.29 days  per country, even more than  the time spent by Manmohan Singh. 


PM Modi has been able to cut time on foreign visits drastically by adopting two strategies.   As far as possible, he combines visits to several countries in one trip. On six occasions, he covered three countries in each trip, e.g. China, Mongolia and South Korea in May 1995 (in 6 days), Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in December 2015 (in 3 days) and Belgium, USA and Saudi Arabia in March-April 2016 (in 5 days). In June 2016, he covered five countries (Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, USA and Mexico) in six days.  In July 2015, he covered six countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan) in just nine days.



  His second strategy is to fly mostly during night, the time to sleep. With proper time management, he does not have to spend night in a hotel in the host country.  This saves not only time but also money.

In contrast, Manmohan Singh preferred to visit one city or one country and that too leisurely. While Modi’s 24 trips covered 51 countries, Manmohan Singh needed 40 trips to cover the same number of countries.  In September 2004, Singh took 8 days to visit just two cities, London and New York.   In September 2005, he spent 18 days on visit to France and New York (only one city in USA). In July 2005, he took five days to visit Washington.  Again, in November 2008 he spent four days   to visit only Washington. Only he knows why he needed so much time to visit just one city.

  Atal Bihari Vajpayee also travelled comfortably.  He covered only 31 countries in 19 trips. Thrice he combined three countries in one trip: Russia, USA and UK in November 2001 (in 10 days); Cyprus, Denmark, and UK in  October 2002 (in 7 days)  and Male, Germany and France in  May-June 2003 9in 13 days)  In September 2000, Vajpayee spent 13 days on visit to the USA alone.  In September 2003 he took 13 days to visit two countries, Turkey and USA.
 

Both Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee avoided flying in night.  They wanted their journey to be very comfortable. They needed comfortable room in a luxurious hotel in the host country to spend night. There was no hurry to return to India.

As stated earlier, the website of the PMO does not have much information about the expenses on chartered flights for PM Modi.  However, whatever limited information is available is also an eye-opener.  In September 2009, the government spent Rs. 19.89 crore on Dr. Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to USA.   Five years later, in September 2015, the government spent Rs. 19.05 crore on Narendra Modi’s seven-day visit to USA.  Obviously,   PM Modi’s visits have been much more economical.

Modi is known to be work alcoholic.  Practising yoga and pranayama for years has disciplined his mind and body.   His food habits are very frugal.   He manages with only a few hours of sleep, much less than what an average person needs. During Navaratras, he remains only on water for 9 days.  He has not taken a single day off since he became PM.  Of course, his detractors can criticise him even for his sleeping for only a few hours and for sleeping in plane during foreign trips.   Rahul Gandhi may say that sleeping in plane is misuse of plane and Arvind Kejriwal may say that Modi remains awake because he has to make conspiracies against him (Kejriwal).   

Apart from Modi’s dedication to the task he has undertaken, what has impressed me most is his time management which is obvious from the analysis of his foreign trips. He does not like to waste a minute of his time and that is why he is able to pay attention to so many issues, big as well as small, at the same time.

He will be remembered as a Great Time Management Guru. I hope, on day, in his ‘man ki baat’ he will tell the people about time management.

  Devendra Narain
 August 09, 2016