February 24, 2020
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Lamp Atop The Power Tower

Governance is now a fascinating subject for youth

Lamp Atop The Power Tower
Avenues Ahead
Adrija Das and Sai Anurag Lakkaraju are LAMP Fellows
Lamp Atop The Power Tower

Windows to alternative car­eer have ceased to be frow­ned upon. Teenagers now are of course keen to pursue newer paths that suit their interests—however risky the plunge may be. But what’s refreshing is a gradual change in the mindset of parents. Those fathers and mothers who forced their children to follow certain beaten paths; they are becoming passe. Instead, they gladly give them a helping hand to pursue an alt­ernate career.

Today’s youth have varied interests, thanks also to exposure through social media. They are no longer bound by con­ventional career options such as engineering, medicine and law. One such area is quite intriguing, though. After four years of engineering or law, many want to understand a new subject: governance.

To some, it may be like a fascination for power, to know the government from close quarters or rub shoulders with powers-that-be. But that doesn’t capture the spirit of the studious ones who pursue the line as a career. That is, say, have a chance at making policies. For which, it is essential to know in depth how Parliament functions, what goes into preparing a bill, how new schemes and projects come up, what goes into clearing bottlenecks in policy implementation.

Pertinently, there is the LAMP Fellow­ship, which is of a non-profit organisation called PRS Legislative Research. LAMP stands for Legislative Assistance to Members of Parliament. About 44 per cent of LAMP fellows stay on in the political and policy space, while a few become entrepreneurs in the development sector. Others move on.

Praveen Chandrasekaran, who handles the LAMP fellowship, says the governa­nce sector has always had a demand for people who could provide quality rese­arch support. “Earlier, there was a lack of formal mechanisms to facilitate this process. That kept young people at bay,” he notes. The institutional support not only encourages more young people to engage in the policymaking process, but also ­attracts youngsters to make an impact.

For instance, when the Rajya Sabha passed a bill on Transgender Rights in April 2014, it turned out to be the first private member’s bill to clear the upper house since 1971. The move had the rese­arch assistance of a LAMP Fellow. Another LAMP Fellow was instrumental in a recent and popular ‘Tax Free Wings’ campaign to eliminate taxes on sanitary napkins. “This ability to have a tangible effect on the policy process is a key att­raction for many youngsters,” points out Chandrasekaran. Besides, the system its­elf is slowly realising the potential these young people carry.

These boys and girls work hard down the line to get attached to legislators or chief minister’s offices of different states under some scholarship or the other. Or, assist political parties on different issues. Sometimes they don’t even mind quitting a fat-salary job in the private sector to learn the ropes on the other side.

For instance, after doing law from the West Bengal National University of Juri­dical Sciences, Adrija Das (25) worked in a law firm for two years. She soon realised that her interest lay in government policy rather than in practising law. Adrija quit her rich-purse job and bagged a LAMP Fellowship, where she assisted Biju Jan­ata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy.

Once her stint with Satpathy was over, Adrija joined an organisation to assist a political party researching on social-sector policymaking. “In future too, I aspire to pursue policymaking in the social sector…like implementation of right to education for economically weaker sections in private schools,” she tells Outlook. “Law as a subject interested me, but it didn’t fulfil my needs in terms of intellectual stimulation.”

Sai Anurag Lakkaraju is a student with an economics background. Impressed by the development work done at his native Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh, the 24-year-old decided to learn governance. He was mentored by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge under the same fellowship Adrija earned. He now assists the party’s SC department as a volunteer. At the same time, Sai has started a legal service start-up to help clients in drafting legal papers. He is planning to come up with a pertinent app.

“I am no expert on leg­islation, but I’ve gained experience in legislative matters. It’s not difficult for me to draft legal agreement papers, tra­demarks, consumer complaints, identify the correct lawyer for small-time businessmen and so on,” he says. “I am assisting the Congress party as a volunteer, but I need to earn money also. Wor­king with legislators lets one know how the government functions.”

Career counsellor Usha Albuquerque feels changing parental influence is helping the youth go for out-of-the-box thoughts. Earlier, parents used to think that their children must get a professional degree for a job. But now they too are learning about different opportunities outside the ‘safe’ zone, also courtesy social media. “In many cosmopolitan schools, science is not the only sought-­after stream, unlike in the past when all the toppers used to be from the science background,” says Albuquerque. “Once they join humanities or com­merce, they see a wide range of avenues before them. These are all coming under acc­eptable careers.”

Athreya wants to remain in policymaking. This career can satisfy him much more than a cushy job can, he says.

Even 10-15 years ago, parents used to think hotel management or the job of an airhostess was not respectable. But when airlines started recruiting young people with good salary, there saw a change in the parents’ attitude. “But the difference I see today,” says Albuquer­que, “is whatever career young people set off on now won’t last for more than 10-15 years because their working life is so dynamic.” She thinks the youth are beginning to realise that there are ample opportunities. “So once they have got confidence in a particular line, they want to try out something else as an add-on. Also because they have some kind of financial security by then.”

Earlier, career shifts took place at a mid-career stage or even later. Over the last decade, young people from multiple academic backgrounds are pursuing careers in governance and public policy. Acco­rding to Subrat Das, who is executive director of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accou­ntability, the main reason behind this is the ambition of the young people. “Hence, they are giving priority to work satisfaction over other parameters,” he notes. “The willingness and ability in many of them to take fin­ancial risks has aided this trend.” Another factor could be a rising trend of very successful entrepreneurs turning into prominent philanthropists—both in India and abroad.

Das, however, is not very certain how many of the youngsters taking up work on governance and policy issues will stick to these for very long. “For, this is an area where one can get frustrated, waiting for their work to lead to some substantive impact/change in the lives of people,” he notes. “For, the “socio-economic problems we are dealing with are very complex and hence require a lot of time to be addr­essed effectively.”

But there are young hearts like Athreya Mukunthan (25), mentored by BJD leader Rabindra Kumar Jena. Mukunthan says he wants to remain in policymaking. “After all, at the age of 60 when I hang my boots, I should have changed lives of at least 10—that would give me more satisfaction than a rich purse with heavy bank balance.”

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