Seventy-five years is an appropriate time in the life of a Nation to pause, reflect and strategize on the approaches needed to shape its future. Whether it is the five trillion-dollar economy, Atmanirbhar Bharat, ease of living for ordinary Indians, or the growing use of technology and digital platforms; the paradigm shift to people centric governance as outlined by Prime Minister Modi in his latest Independence Day speech can no longer be aspirational but needs to be the national imperative.
The ongoing COVID situation has not only redefined the very nature and understanding of a public good but has also reiterated the importance of the public sector. It has also shown the realistic possibility for a synergistic approach to human development – whether it is managing a crisis or meeting National goals. Government working in partnership with the Private sector and Civil Society is the emerging new normal. The state fulfilled its constitutional mandate and came up with the resources, the knowledge, the guidelines, and policies. It procured and distributed vaccines, ensured oxygen supplies and medical equipment including ventilators, and paid for care provided in the private and non-government sectors. Looking beyond profits and bottom lines, Corporate India joined the fight against COVID-19. The private sector took up the public responsibility by supporting with fiscal, material, and logistic support apart from ensuring care. Civil society was in full force, facilitating the last mile connection of healthcare services to the public and ensuring the most marginalized were cared for – whether it was the migrants under economic distress or the indigenous tribal living in geographically challenged circumstances.
Traditionally, the public-sector has played a dominant role in delivering goods and services for public welfare. Post globalization, we had the private sector scaling up its capability to serve the interests of various stakeholders. The civil society and non-governmental organisations that form the third sector have also been active in stepping in and supplementing State efforts in ensuring services reach the deserving poor. However, what the pandemic catalysed was the blurring of sectoral margins and the emergence of a new fourth sector - one that takes the welfare obligation of the public-sector, the social outlook & grassroots reach of civil society and the efficiency of the private-sector and combining them to create a more soulful economy. A world where capitalism is compassionate, and every citizen gets to be a key stakeholder in the development agenda set forth.
Operating in this new ecosystem requires a new mindset and an evolving skillset to meet the growing and complex demands of our citizens. It needs skills of collaboration, credit sharing, partnership, persuasion, and conflict resolution along with a nuanced and practical understanding of disruptive innovations, digital arenas, big data management and emerging technologies.
Policy Making with Colonial Mindset
COVID-19 serves as a wakeup call that we need a new breed of policy makers more urgently than ever before. The question is how prepared we as a nation are to respond to the call. Till about 25 years ago, India did not have institutions to teach public policy. It was thought that India was not ready for having institutions of public policy. The commercial viability of policy schools was also not certain.
This resulted in a natural deficit of trained and qualified talent. We had a generation of policy makers who were trained mostly in foreign countries. Often the contextual relevance of what they had studied, and the cultural appropriateness of what they had imbibed did not adequately equip them to be a good policy maker for and in India. The policy making process must consider the citizen’s perspective if governance must become people focussed. We need policy makers to sit with our people, understand what their requirements are, and listen to their voices, then come up with policies for them.
Even today, public policies are rarely made by qualified, and trained people, and considering the local perspectives. It is not evidence-based but eminence-based, wherein you appoint an eminent person to suggest or recommend a policy or set the direction. Policy makers generally don’t go back and check what impact their policies have, and whether they attain the desired outcome. We are yet to outgrow the inherited colonial mindset that sees citizens as subjects. With the government becoming increasingly articulate about the need for and importance of citizen engagement, the authorizing environment will start to rapidly alter. India will now need a new generation of competent and compassionate policy makers who are not only sensitive to citizen needs but are also able to balance evidence with emotion when designing policy for a dynamic and complex eco-system.
Need for New Breed of Policy Makers
It is in this scenario that we need to see our public administrators and policy makers redefining and rediscovering themselves and their roles. Building their capacities cannot be restricted to the in-service training and re-orientation that they get but needs to begin in the several policy schools that have now come up over the last decade or so. One also needs to appreciate that policy professionals are no longer restricted to the domain of Government. With the overlap of roles across sectors and need for specialized policy knowledge growing, the role of a qualified policy professional is going to be critical.
For a Nation in transition with this people centric approach, the state must see citizens as partners. It must empower them and be secure in engaging with them. The last several decades of populist governance has creating an entitlement mindset with parasitic tendencies in the citizenry. But this is neither desirable nor sustainable. India at 75 must begin a new journey with policy making facilitating the transition from ‘providing to provisioning’, and from ‘provisioning to partnership’. We need a public policy system that is based on a collaborative spirit driven by an appreciation of the strengths of different stake holders. We need to get the citizens co-own problems and co-design solutions to them without waiting for or expecting a patronizing government to solve all their problems.
The policy makers need humility without thinking that they have the answers to all the problems of the people. The attitude of “I” is not going to work. Instead of being person-centric, the policy makers should realize that they are just part of the solution. They need humility, compassion, and courage. They must be driven a higher level of purpose – of building a Nation that can be a model for the rest of the world to imitate.
We need a new breed of policymakers who understand that every inhabitant and every voice matters – irrespective of gender, language, caste or religion. From people to unseen microorganisms, water bodies, birds, animals, trees, flora, and fauna; they are all the stakeholders our policy makers must consider. Ultimately, policy making is not merely a career. It is a way of thinking. And it is this new breed of policy makers who will help build a New India that all of us are working towards.