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Initiatives like PM’s Pariksha Pe Charcha set fresh benchmarks for leadership in India

We live in times of unprecedented challenges with our life today full of high decibel surround sound – be that of global political issues, climate change, domestic elections or the high stakes fight for lives and livelihoods against a devastating pandemic. Amidst this, we miss many nuances that keep hope and positivity alive.

This aspect struck home, on chancing upon a programme for students on TV. Interestingly, the country’s PM engaged in a dialogue with students who, having faced the most trying 12 months, are now in the unenviable throes of exam fever. India has seen seven years of Narendra Modi, yet a new layer of unconventional leadership lay unveiled.

After all, it’s easy to get complacent with the kind of public support the PM enjoys, but he seems to have chosen wisely to use the massive mass connect constructively. Be it encouraging the youth to self-believe in starting-up and innovating or empathetically guiding the country in a time of crisis, introducing the pandemic’s seriousness and coaxing all to follow protective norms.

It’s interesting to see how on the one hand, he has dealt with tasks at hand decisively, for procrastination is a word you’d rarely associate with Modi; he believes in rolling one’s sleeves and getting into doing the work. For years before his term, the status quo was not just the default but the desired outcome for complex cases. But be it Jan Dhan, Article 370, GST, Ram Mandir, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code or punitive or diplomatic actions against cross border aggression, Modi created a new normal by addressing not suspending issues.

Yet, on the other hand, his approach is unique and layered in using this earned capital – his influence and impact – for a more subtle benefit to society. It appears that he sees his role not just as a 24×7 political chief, limited to thinking solely of politically expedient issues, but as a leader in sync with an essential world beyond political cliches. He has earned a rare connect with people and is putting that to good use in areas where it may be noticed less but matters more.

Take, for example, his approach towards children at a critical juncture. All children are naturally blessed to deal with life challenges with unique inherent strengths. Still, our modern world’s expectations rob them of their natural instinct, and often rather than instilling belief, we let them get bogged down under the pressure of examinations. As parents, many of us struggle with balancing our expectations with our child’s potential. Year on year, our conscience is rattled by children crumbling under exam stress and driven to self-harm. Modi appears to care about these related issues deeply and give them time and attention.

A few days ago at a time when families catch up over early dinner or watch TV, the PM was part of their dynamic through an inimitable interaction. Not making a political pitch but speaking and exploring with them how to navigate this annual anguish best. Taking questions from parents, teachers and children on exams he answered with elan and empathy, clearly from the experience of continually facing the many exams life threw up. It wasn’t the first time the PM was having this conversation.  This Pariksha Pe Charcha has apparently seen a four-year continuous run.

Exam stress, burden of expectations, parent’s attitudes – one cannot easily think of a politician who last broached such topics in any country, let alone a PM in India. Yet, Modi played the role of a guide in a complex conversation involving multiple generations.

He gently chided parents for allowing a generation gap to form, he fielded questions on topics that stakeholders in the education space want to discuss and facilitated a much-needed debate on the unnecessarily stressful lives children lead. From broadening the discussion to values and sensitivity and inclusion of the working staff at home to going beyond the academic syllabus and using stories, art to instil learning and then humorously stepping into the tiffin food vs junk food conundrum, from the vexing question of what after 10th/12th standard to underscoring the dangers of being drawn to careers that promise instant limelight and easy money, the PM was at his natural best.

There are very few who can caution parents about living their unfulfilled dreams vicariously through their children. It’s a delicate arena to step into, but one saw Modi do that, displaying a rare ability to connect with issues below the surface sans any political gain. This dialogue may appear to be for students of academia but can perhaps extend to a larger subset. The more significant journey of personal growth, expansion beyond defined roles, exploration of the self and the world around is relevant for not just students but a larger subset.

Brushed aside by some of the savvy and seasoned lot, it’s discussions like Pariksha Pe Charcha and conversations like Mann Ki Baat, or books like Exam Warriors, which are in context and original in their construct. This consistency of engagement speaks of conviction, of action. Eventually, beyond all gargantuan governance and political tasks, these unconventional nuanced efforts add a rare dimension to Modi as a leader of the people and would set atypical benchmarks for future leadership in India. For often, it’s not the mammoth but the big little nuances that genuinely matter.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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