A stronger local government may actually help in solving many of its issues, says Nitin Pai who has set up a centre for public policy, Takshashila Foundation in the city
Nitin Pai spent nearly a decade working in the Singapore government after completing his masters n public administration from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His experiences in the city state taught him the importance and the limitations of good policymaking. Nitin began blogging extensively about issues relating to India and public policy on his blog, The Acorn. His blog received many views and drew the attention of many like-minded people. Returning from Singapore, he and a group of like-minded people set up the Indian National Interest, a blogging platform that dealt with framing public policy. A magazine, Pragati was launched soon and the Takshashila Foundation was set up in 2007 in Bangalore.
The goal of the organisation was to establish itself as one of the credible voices in India’s public policy discourse, through consistent high-quality policy advisories. “We felt that changing India is akin to running a marathon, it is going to be multi-generational and will need organisations that last long and look beyond the realm of immediate public interest. In 2012, the institute began a course on public policy that aims at equipping students with the knowledge of the policymaking process and the factors that influence it.
He adds, “One of the main reasons for the success of the programme was the awakening of the middle class India to issues concerning governance and public policy after the India against corruption movement and the Modi phenomenon that has altered public interest in policy making. More and more people are keen on serious analysis of public policy.”
One of the most common questions Pai faces is why set up a school for public policy in Bangalore, instead of Delhi. “It has been an inside joke within our group that your objectivity towards the national interests increases with the Distance from Delhi (DFD) factor. Bangalore has a long tradition of being a cosmopolitan intellectual centre, dealing with both civilian and military aspects of public policy. The fact that I fell in love with this city when I studied at National College Jayanagar in the early 1990s also ensured that we decided to set up our base here.”
Nitin contends that most of the issues that Bangalore faces can be solved through citizen participation and accountability at the local level. “It is important that the state sets up something similar to the central finance commission that can earmark funds for all the state government’s expenses. It has been done successfully at the central level. Power is shared among multiple bodies in the city and no one is keen on taking responsibility.”
He adds, “A stronger local government may actually help in solving many of its issues. Bangalore must aspire to be the beautiful town it was in the 1970s, blending modernity with tradition. We must aspire to be a city that people enjoy staying in, instead of one creaking with traffic snarls, bad roads, water and electricity shortages. We have the resources, though it is important that the citizenry takes active interest.”
Nitin contends that the change in public discourse has been encouraging. “It is good that the urban middle class is looking at public policy seriously. Middle India is looking at a share in the governance process. I think that this change owes much to the India against corruption movement.”
Political campaigns have seen a change with the entry of the new player in the fray, the Aam Admi Party(AAP). The other political parties are making efforts to pick clean candidates and through new devices such as primaries making an attempt to tap into the AAP voter base. Pramod Muthalik was forced to leave the BJP in a few hours. This has been the impact of the AAP.”
One of the important lessons that political parties must imbibe is that no single policy can be imposed across the country. “You cannot take a massive scheme like the MNREGA and implement it nationwide, without taking local factors into account. What may work in rural Jharkhand and help people may have an effect of enhancing inflation and creating a shortage of labour in places like rural Bangalore. This is a fundamental flaw of the economic policy. Such schemes must be conducted at the state level than at the central level.”
“Though internal debates occur within every political party about economic policy, I do not see a massive difference in the economic outlook of most political parties. I think the normal labels do not work in the Indian context. The so called right wing in India is against foreign direct investment, while the so called centrist party supports reservations in the private sector,” he contends.
Nitin feels that this election is very different from the last election in terms of the manner in which public discourse has changed. “The incumbent government is facing a populace that is angry about the many scams and scandals, the high levels of inflation and are blaming their economic woes on the central government. On the other hand, social media has emerged as a serious player in the urban areas.”
He adds, “I think social media has adversely affected coverage of issues on tv and newspapers. The issues that dominate social media conversations predominate prime time discussions on TV. That is a noticeable change from the 2009 elections. The rise of the urban middle class as a political force is also a positive development. People are demanding answers from the politicians on key governance issues. It has become important for the leaders to engage with the people on a regular basis. It has been the norm in the US. With leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi using the social media, political engagement has also seen a change”