The Mind of a Strategist

5 min readApr 11, 2019

I generally don’t write about politics, and this time also, it’s not about politics (knowing well the ‘heat’ of April/May), however, my interest on Strategy and Innovation remains acute.

There is so much said and written about our PM Modi that I can hardly add to the discourse. Albeit, as a student of management, and a reciprocative citizen, I feel compelled to reason and draw inferences from how the man thinks.

File photo of the future PM

Here’s a humble attempt of developing a stylized model of what might be going inside this time-honed brain.

Honing a thick skin

The most outstanding characteristic of PM Modi is his thick skin, his deftness when it comes to following his mind, against apparent and visible opponents. I reckon that any successful person in any field needs to hone a thick skin, and needs to know when to react and to whom.

With incessant tweets and war of words on every statement/ action of the leader, it’s important to know when to reach and when to just ‘let it go’. It save a tremendous amount of mystery.

The years at Sangh, and being a foot-soldier, before taking on the wrath of Gujarat Riots and the global backlash, the man stood (almost alone), and fought internal and external failures.

Here’s one account of thick skin demonstrated. When Azam Khan calls Modi ‘dog’, PM Modi says — “when it comes to being faithful, there’s no one greater than dog!”.

That’s presence of mind, thick skin, and adopting Judo tactics (more on it later).

What’s the message for all of us — if you wish to do anything significant in life, have a thick skin.

Leveraging the power of words and imagery

The great Napoleon Bonaparte said — “a leaders is a dealer in hope”.

Right from the very first days at power, PM Modi made his speeches memorable and phrases catchy. Some of the rather enduring ones are:

Abki baar, Modi sarkar

Sabka saath, sabka vikas

More government, less governance

I am ‘Pradhan Sevak’ , not Pradhan Mantri

Na khaunga na khane dunga

3D for development: Democracy, Demography, Demand

Stand up India, start up India

The 2014 speech at the Madison Square was as powerful as riveting and full of punch phrases that still reverberate in the foreign and domestic audience.

Or, for that matter, the address on India’s 70th Independence Day in 2016 at the Red Fort

When was the last time you remember a global leader being so brilliant with words, to a global audience (AB Vajpayee comes to mind here).

Maan ki Baat’ remains a powerful medium to that effect.

PM Modi is also a master of imagery.

If words were not enough, powerful imagery, with its own long life (thanks to social media) plays a vital role in forwarding the impressions.

Here’s a select few powerful imagery from the years gone by.

Bowing at Parliament in May, 2015
Deepawali celebration in 2017

Very few leaders use words and images to their advantage, the way Modi does it.

It’s indeed MODIfied India!

Adopting Judo tactics

One of the elements ot Judo is to leverage your opponent’s strength to its disadvantage, instead of forcing yours. Instead of being defensive or attacking, it’s about playing with the motions and turning other’s blow onto themselves.

PM Modi does that instinctively and brilliantly.

The ‘Chowkidar’ adage/ initials as a ‘judo’ tactic to take on the allegations of Rahul Gandhi is only the most recent one. Here’re the two episodes for you.

Here is Rahul Gandhi alleging ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ on the Rafale deal.

Here’s how Modi has taken this in the stride, instead of being defensive about it. That’s realpolitik.

And then the video — Main Bhi Chowkidar.

You don’t see this level of strategic play that often even in business, let alone politics at the national level.

Forging distinct alliances

One of the major criticisms of the Modi government, in the initial years, was the several trips PM Modi did overseas.

By Dec 2018, PM Modi has visited 92 nations over 55 months, costing the exchequer Rs. 2,021 crores. Interestingly, the former PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh, visited 93 nations and late Indira Gandhi toured some 115!

The foreign ties, with countries as disparate as Israel, Iran, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Vietnam, and Mexico, amongst the more powerful ones (full list), only depicts the strategic play here. Winning the critiques at a global level, and building India’s soft power does play a significant role in cornering immediate challenges.

New Delhi, Jan 2019

The beauty of these strategic ties is the diversity. Diplomats, politicians, businessmen, sportsmen, celebrities, defense personnels, and even nemesis, made the returns on investment handsome even in the short run.

In UAE, Aug 2015
In USA, June 2017

This gives a sense of the variety of ties PM Modi forged over his tenure.

Each of these ties only strengthen his position in the minds of the people.

Element of surprise

Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese warrior, quipped — “mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy.”

Modi has this uncanny ability to surprise, not just the foes but also the friends. And he does that mystically.

Some of the greatest surprises under his regime include visiting Nawaz Sharif on his birthday (Dec 2015), Demonetization (Nov, 2016), appointment of Yogi Adityanath as UP CM (March 2017), Advani ousted from Presidential race (July 2017), Surgical Strike (July 2018), appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as Defence Minister (July 2018), and the list (must) go on.

What makes PM Modi powerful is his tireless attitude.

Take for instance this one here:

Of course, PM Modi has leveraged social media, narratives, humour, local knowledge, language and dialect, and his dressing style to his advantage, however, the aforementioned list is just an attempt to give shape to an art form.

Fewer leaders have been so successful at converting strategy to tactics, almost effortlessly. Hence:

Phir ek baar, Modi sarkaar!

Read more about creativity and design thinking in my book, Design Your Thinking.




Innovation Evangelist and author of the book, Design Your Thinking.