How Narendra Modi’s “lack of education” is advantageous for him


Even though constitutionally our leaders need not be highly educated (even literate), we, especially the urban middle class, wish to have learned politicians to lead us. That’s the reason, Arvind Kejriwal, Jairam Ramesh and Manohar Parrikar with their IIT degrees are model leaders in popular perception. When educated professionals, be it Sashi Tharoor, Nandan Nilekani or Adarsh Shastri, join politics, we get over-excited with the hope that they will bring new perspectives to the old world of Indian politics. That’s the reason, in 2004, people of India had high expectations from the government led by eminent economist Dr Manmohan Singh. Is lack of proper education of our leaders dangerous then? What it means to have an uneducated leader?

A few months ago, Aakar Patel, in an article for The Mint, argued how “lack of proper education” can lead to certitude which can be dangerous at times. According to Mr Patel, “doubt is the sign of an enlightened mind” which is seen as indecision in India whereas certitude is seen as a “virtue in making leaders strong and decisive”, but decisive leaders tend to make stupid decision due to lack of awareness of opposing arguments. To quote Mr Patel, “Extreme certitude, of the sort we observe in Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, is actually a negative quality when coupled with a lack of proper education. Modi has never been to college and his degree is from a correspondence course”.

I beg to differ and let me explain why. First of all, in a country like ours, social status plays a huge role in determining the quality of education one can get. So don’t hold it against someone. And good education doesn’t necessarily guarantee good governance by the leader. But does lack of it affects the leadership and decision making process?

Usually, people in a leadership role but with less knowledge try to simplify the issue in their hand. They try to understand the issue in layman’s terms and they take the help of only experts and nobody else. To bring clarity in their understanding, they don’t hesitate to ask simple questions which the learned people may feel embarrassed to ask. They don’t leave the subject till they understand each aspect of it with utmost clarity. It is no wonder that Narendra Modi, the front-runner in the PM race, seeks inputs from economists and policy experts like Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya, Ravi Mantha and Bibek Debroy for his economic vision. A group intellectuals is closely working with Modi to shape his strategies to address many problems that India faces now.

Contrary to Aakar Patel’s argument that an uneducated leader may act on his instincts, he would actually rely more on data than his instincts. Therefore, the decision taken will be balanced, objective and effective. In fact, it is the highly educated leaders with their own personal bias and disdain for other’s views who have more chances of taking decisions unilaterally.

People with less education try to compensate the deficiency of theoretical knowledge with practical experience. Before taking any decision, they check if the same had been tried by anyone ever in the world and what was the outcome. This kind of research helps in finding out the best practices of the world and follow it in your area. Take for example the much talked about Narmada canal top solar power plant in Gujarat. The idea is to fix solar panels over the 19000km long Narmada canal network to generate solar power. This is actually an improved version of the idea of floating solar panels which was implemented first in a pond in California, US.

So, if you know your deficiencies in terms of formal education, you can actually use it to your advantage. Modi has been doing it as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and he will be able to do it as the Prime Minister as well.

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