The Leadership System – the Case of Modi

Rarely but sometimes I repeat myself. As in when I repeat that I never write or speak anymore simply about “leadership.” Instead, I’m forever invoking the leadership system.

The leadership system is simple – though it is less simple than just focusing, laser-like, on the leader. Fact is that leaders are no more important than their followers, and that these are no more important than the contexts within which they, leaders and followers, are located. The leadership system, then, consists of three parts – leaders, followers, and contexts – each of which is equally important.*  

This truism comes to mind specifically in the case of India, where Covid-19 has, just in recent weeks, redrawn the political map. Until recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi was riding high. Whatever his flaws – and they were considerable – his political standing within India, notably among the majority Hindus, seemed as impregnable as impermeable. However, once the context changed – once India proved massively, tragically, vulnerable to the pandemic – so did Modi’s political standing. To be sure, he remains popular. But the situation now is dire, which suggests that he will, in time, be held personally and politically responsible for the disaster.

What happened in India is what Americans might call, as in baseball, an unforced error. For India had been doing rather well, certainly in comparison with other countries – many of whom performed more poorly as it pertained to the pandemic – until just a month or two ago. But then, Modi, restless to restart the admittedly decimated economy, and, like other (though not all) populist leaders, distrustful of science, opened the country in too much of a hurry. The Indian people paid, are paying, the price. India continues, every day, to break world records for new cases.

Though Modi went into the crisis a man made, apparently, of steel, it has become improbable his armor will hold. Liberals especially have been lying in wait for him for years, deeply disappointed that though he showed early promise as a democrat, what he became in time was an unmitigated autocrat.

My real point though is that in March and April it was not Modi that changed. It was the context that changed. India became the global epicenter of the pandemic – a turn of events for which the prime minister will pay. Even he  – who up to now might well have remained in office indefinitely, given India has no term limits on prime ministers – is not impervious to the tempest of the time.                  

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*For more on this see my 2016 article in Daedalus, titled, “Leadership – It’s a System, not a Person!” daed_a_00399.pdf (silverchair.com)  

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