In 2015, I was summoned to the North Block from the office of the then Minister of State for Finance, Jayant Sinha. For somebody who worked in a bank, my first thought was that some hell had broken loose somewhere; I may have written something that was a slip-up or something. We ended up having a one-hour long conversation and that was it. Nothing happened; life moved on as usual.
Then, in 2016, I received another call that I now think possibly changed the trajectory of my career path and maybe, even life. I was asked if I want to work with Mr Sinha as the Officer on Special Duty. After mulling over it, it was decided that I will work with him for 18-24 months—even after Mr Sinha moved from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Why? I wanted to explore the world of policy. Such opportunities are hard to come by.
Besides, it’s where I learnt two of the biggest lessons that I now see panning out around us these days, especially during the debates on the #FarmBill2020.
It’s nice to see public interest in policy-making. After all, in Tier 1 metros, we may be disconnected with the public policy. After all, our basic needs are met by private services; we hardly rely on the government for these things. But that’s not true for the vast majority of people.
In Tier 2/3 cities, in the interiors of India, you can see how closely people are dependent on the government. For them, be it bijli, sadak, paani or roti, kapda aur makaan —these are important components that the government provides. The same applies to shiksha, swasthya aur suraksha.
With the government overwhelmed and unable to provide, there is a legitimate ‘private cost of public failure’. And yet, we often find ourselves disconnected from what’s happening in the world of policy making. So, it’s nice to see interest and rich debate on an aspect of public policy-making.
This brings me to the second biggest lesson I learnt during my experience working with the government as OSD—it’s only by getting involved that one can understand how complex policy-making is; it has various multi-faceted impact that may often be hard to predict.
When we were working on the UDAN policy, we had consultations and meetings with numerous stakeholders. That was our way of taking into consideration numerous different perspectives and angles.
Despite all the hard work, policy-makers often have to make trade-offs. One of the other things that I learnt which is very interesting is that, when you are in public policy and trying to solve multiple stakeholders, you will not be able to keep everyone happy every time.
That’s why, for as a policy-maker, time is your friend. Today, we bring out a policy that may be more favorable to one party; but we take the time to understand where it hurts the other party. So we then take it up in the subsequent iterations. It’s a finely balancing act—one that’s a continuous process.
These are lessons I would have never learnt had I not been lucky to partake in public policy-making. And while I appreciate that not everybody would be able to be so actively involved, I do believe there is merit in being actively informed about updates as well as different points of view.