The vision of the prime minister as a relentless karmayogi is certainly a breathtaking one. There are numerous studies to show that grinding out 100-hour weeks (. Plus, it makes you a slave driver who expects those on his team to sync their work routines with his own punishing schedule, resulting in an inordinate degree of stress and distress all around.
The Indian prime minister has no respite and his working schedule begins at five in the morning and ends at 3 AM. Such a kind of punishing schedule distinguishes Modi as workalcohlic. There is now a new piece of information that’s guaranteed to further burnish Modi’s larger-than-life image amongst his legion of fans. In response to a Right to Information query, the prime minister’s office revealed recently that Modi has not taken a single day off since assuming office on 26 May 2014. In case you’re still doing the maths, that means Modi has gone for 875 days without taking any leave. Add to this the fact that he maintains a gruelling 18-hour-a-day routine and keeps an iron hand over nearly every aspect of decision making and governance, and you have a man who is a textbook case of a workaholic. Modi admits as much. In a recent interview to a television channel, he declared that his only form of relaxation was — you guessed it — more work. “I relax through working only. I never get tired of working,” he said. The vision of the prime minister as a relentless karmayogi is certainly a breathtaking one. There are numerous studies to show that grinding out 100-hour weeks (Modi is probably clocking 125 hours or thereabouts) leads to burnout and a decline in productivity and creativity. Plus, it makes you a slave driver who expects those on his team to sync their work routines with his own punishing schedule, resulting in an inordinate degree of stress and distress all around.
Needless to say, running a country is much more complicated than heading a department or an organisation. Even so, history is replete with examples of great presidents and prime ministers who understood the value of relaxation and downtime. Take the BJP’s very own Atal Behari Vajpayee, the architect of the party’s first full stint in power between 2000 and 2004. Widely acknowledged as a great leader, Vajpayee believed in delegating work and concerned himself with taking only key decisions. Moreover, he took annual vacations in Kumarakom, where he penned his “musings” and put down his thoughts on issues like the Kashmir problem, Ayodhya and so on. Again, though India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a complete workaholic who did not like to delegate, even he took holidays — notably a fairly long one in Manali in 1958. Indira Gandhi too was a tough taskmaster but is said to have taken things easy on weekends when she would spend time reading. Rajiv Gandhi, on the other hand, seemed to have taken after his grandfather and liked to micro-manage. But he too went on occasional holidays with his family to places like Ranthambhor and Lakshadweep. Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh seems to have worked tirelessly as well and there is no record of him having gone off on vacations. But his leadership style was clearly too self-effacing for his workaholism to make an impact on the public mind.
Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, who steered his country to victory over Nazi Germany, was known to take naps in the afternoon. A late riser, Churchill often worked from bed in the morning, took long lunches and got down to real work only at night. He also pursued hobbies like painting and bricklaying. His American counterpart, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a hobby too — he turned to his stamp collection to switch off from the duties of state and regularly went vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia. President Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery in the US, too liked to escape from the pressures of the White House. In his book Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, historian Matthew Pinsker writes that even during the Civil War, Lincoln often retired to a cottage in a Washington suburb where he recited poetry to his friends, spent time with his family, forged important friendships and emerged refreshed. Of course, there is no definitive study to indicate a correlation between a leader’s legacy and how much of a workaholic or otherwise he/she may have been. US President Bill Clinton was a compulsive micro-manager who worked late into the night and often called up aides at 3 am to question them on minor points. So was President Jimmy Carter, who is said to have read through the White House, tennis court schedules as well!
Clinton’s legacy is mixed — his tenure saw tremendous prosperity in the US while his impeachment proceedings brought huge disrepute to the presidency itself. And Carter, though he had many achievements and brokered the first major Israel-Egypt peace accord, is widely regarded as a failure. Though a head of state can never be entirely disconnected from the job, the point is that most world leaders do take breaks. According to fact checking website Politifact, as of September 2016, US president Barack Obama has spent 217 vacation days, while his predecessor president George W. Bush, holidayed for 533 days in his eight years of presidency. Obama did get a lot of flak for playing golf while holidaying in Martha’s Vineyard in August 2014 at a time when the ISIS had just beheaded an American citizen. But that doesn’t seem to have changed his mind about getting away from it all from time to time. So clearly, Modi stands apart from other world leaders in his determination to work 24X7. In doing so, he not only risks enormous stress to himself, but probably also keeps his ministerial team in a state of constant consternation, which isn’t great for their growth or creativity. Modi may still emerge as an epochal leader, borne aloft by his relentless energy and unflagging attention to his job. But he might want to remember that in the Bible, after working hard on Creation for six days, even God took a break on the seventh day.