Why There Is Much To Look Forward To

By Muhammad Khan

Somewhere along the way we became a deeply cynical people.

We stopped believing in the people whom we had elected to represent us. We continuously lowered our expectations, began to demand less and less from our leaders. And in the end they sunk to the occasion. We did not ask for leadership or vision. We did not insist on boldness in action. So disgusted did we become with the process that many of us refused to even participate. And in doing so we allowed our politics and our government to be dominated by the lowest common denominator.

Why did we withdraw from the responsibility of participating in the process of nation building- a responsibility no citizen should be allowed to abdicate. Was it because of the choices in terms of candidates we were offered? Was it because of the perception that one has to be inherently ‘compromised’ to do business?

But, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of the nation’s journey is long and ultimately it bends towards progress. Over the last 5 years there are subtle changes gnawing at the edges of our systems of governance. These changes, though slow, promise a better class of governance and of public service.

It is my belief that there are three reasons why we should still hold out hope that our Government can be a force for the greater good:

Firstly, in the last four years I have personally seen the emergence of new breed of professional – the policy maker. This individual holds degrees in the discipline, he or she has actively studied at institutions that are committed to the teaching of this subject. What has changed is that most of these individuals a few years ago would have ended up working in international institutions but now a greater number is coming back home and applying to our resident ministries. In fact, between 2009 and 2011, the Environment Ministry of the Government of India had the privilege of numerous offers (many of whom were accommodated) from students pursuing degrees at premier international institutions who wished to come and work (often for free) with the Ministry. The Law Ministry, the National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of External Affairs have all developed internship programmes to accommodate these professionals. Given the resistance of governmental institutions to change one must conclude that the demand must be quite significant.

Secondly, the recession ensured the return of some really good minds to the nation. Many of those who returned sought their fulfillment through public service. As a result you will find a host of individuals both within and outside Government working at developing solutions for domestic problems The most recent in the series of articles acknowledging this phenomenon appeared in India Today and can be found at here. The Planning Commission has young consultants who work to assist the members on matters of policy planning. Ministers are looking for younger and brighter professionals to functions as Officers on Special Duty.

Thirdly, and I might be the victim of a personal bias in this regard, but the establishment of over a dozen premier national law schools where students have to commit to half a decade of pure legal education has greatly increased the number of aspirants to public institutions. There is no other discipline that rivals the raw exposure to governance that the study of law affords. It is but a given that a certain percentage of law students will always reach for positions in public service. This is not an original thought but is instead founded upon the theory of ‘Social Engineers’ by the jurist Roscoe Pound.

It is my belief that over the next decade these individuals will rise within the ranks of Government to become pillars of administration that cannot be ignored. It will be these leaders who in various roles will show people what they can be and they shall help build the road to get there.

But for there to be consistent and meaningful change, the numbers must continue to grow. And that is where the rest of us come in…

*A guest blogpost by Muhammad Khan, who will be speaking at the next Pecha Kucha Night at the American Center, on the 11th of October. Muhammad Khan is the Officer on Special Duty to the Minister for Rural Development in the Government of India. Prior to this he was the Advisor on law and policy matters to the Minister for Environment and Forests. Muhammad is a lawyer by training who began his career working with the law firm of Amarchand & Mangaldas, Delhi. He participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program on Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation in 2012.

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