ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: India was a key detour in the earthly journey of Steve Jobs. He came to Benares in the early 1970s looking for what most hippies did back then: nirvana.
When he asked Kairolie Baba, a sadhu, on how to attain it, apparently all he got in return was a clean shave of his head on a hilltop.
From that experience, we can conjecture that Jobs probably learnt to always keep aiming higher, give people something they never knew they wanted, and to keep it all sufficiently mystical and secretive (and pricey).
Thus suitably enlightened, “Swami Steveananda” returned home to set up Apple Ashram, ushering in what he didn’t get in Benares—nirvana albeit of the digital kind—to millions of cultish disciples by marrying beauty with utility.
Maybe that was the easy part for someone who “lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts“.
But what if Steve Jobs were in the position of Manmohan Singh?
After all, the Congress is in the shit-hole as Apple found itself in, when Jobs returned for his second stint. A once-good brand fallen in bad times with the younger opponents snapping at its heels, accompanied by diminishing public acceptance and street cred.
So, yes, what would Steve Jobs have done had he been in prime minister Manmohan Singh’s shoes?
1. Show who’s the boss: Steve Jobs was neither a hardware engineer nor a software programmer, nor certainly a manager, yet as its CEO and “technology leader” he was the face and voice of Apple, in good times and bad, and proudly so.
As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have stood up and be counted, instead of blaming the demands of coalition politics or hinting at a plot to destabilise the polity for his plight. Or running for cover from colleagues (like Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Digvijay Singh or Mani Shankar Aiyar) constantly shooting him in the foot.
In doing so, Jobs would have cleared the negative perception among the people and within his party over who really runs the government: he, she or he.
2. Launch a killer product: Like a bad Indian restaurant which churns out everything from South Indian to North Indian food, with Chinese, Chaat, Continental and Mughlai thrown in, the Congress tries to do please all, in the process pleasing few or none.
As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have come up with one killer idea or concept, kept it neat, simple and minimalistic so that the voters would understand, and kept making it better till he perfected it in time for the elections.
And that killer concept can’t be foreign policy. It’s got to be something like iPod and iPhone and iPad: something which the people can see, touch, feel and connect with. A bit like NREGA from UPA-I.
He could even call it “i” something, “i” for Indira that is.
3. Make peace with the enemy: Here’s what they don’t teach you at Oxford and Cambridge (or at World Bank). If you are prime minister of India, there’s no point fighting with the people of India about how to deal with corruption when gigantic godzillas of scams are running amok.
Which is what Singh’s buffoons like Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Manish Tiwari, Renuka Chowdhury et al are doing vis-a-vis the Lok Pal bill nightly on television.
As Manmohan Singh, Jobs who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge would have clearly identified the enemy—which is corruption—and made peace with those who would like it vanquished—which is the people—and laid out a road map for Parliament to pass it, without sending the signal that the Congress somehow has a vested interest in protecting the crooked and the corrupt.
4. Talk to us: Whether he had good news to convey or bad, whether he was in great shape or not, Steve Jobs stood up on stage in his trademark black turtle neck pullover and blue jeans to deliver the message.
As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have capitalised on his honesty and integrity to come clean, to clarify, to tell it like it is, instead of allowing those the people distrust and dislike (see shortlists above) to further tie his government in knots.
As Singh, Jobs would have shown plenty of passion, and made one stunning speech or given a great interview instead of hiding behind the anodyne speeches of his media advisors, delivered deadpan like a post-lunch lecture at Delhi school of economics.