21 Days to Deepen Democracy

By Somya Bajaj, Delegate at Policy BootCamp 2015

Image Source: Vision India Foundation

Policy? Check. BootCamp? Check. 21 days? Unsure.

When the post popped on my desktop, I was delighted. A graduate with infinite dreams and a vision for the nation, with an unsatiating corporate job and goal to pursue a PhD in development Economics, needs motivation and a force to propel her dreams. And that is what I perceived Vision India Foundation Policy BootCamp as.

As the popular notion regarding policy studies goes, people around me were sceptical of my decision to quit my job and opt for the workshop. Something inside me said “Go for it” and I listened to Swami Vivekananda’s advice of “if you heart says go, go”.

Today, I can proudly say it is one of the decisions which I will always be proud of. More than anything else, I found myself at the BootCamp. It was not just about meeting the masterminds in the policy making arena, or meeting likeminded people. It was a 21 day exercise which put us through conversations and interactions which left us as better individuals.

Policy making is not laying down a framework for a country. It is a responsibility, an ability to look at the bigger picture with the stakeholders at the focal point and not one’s vested interests. Magic. Yes, that is what an impact a well crafted and inclusively thought of policy can make.

When we speak of changing the world, the intuitive response is, one needs to be at a pedestal, have the power and authority to regulate change. I shared a similar view. The enthusiastic budding development economist in me, wanting to battle the social issues, solve problems in the economy and leave a mark in the society, aspiring to join politics and saw it as the most influential as fastest way to make this change possible. When I realised the power of democracy which almost none of us are exercising.  A nation with so much potential, myriad views, cultural heritage has no reason to be poverty stricken. As Ms. Madhu Kishwar rightly puts it, poverty in India is as unnatural as a river flowing up. What has failed then? The government?

No. We as citizens, in exercising the rights and duties bestowed on us by the constitution. We succumbed to the conditions we were in as normal, we defined development as what the west defined it as. From the 1st to the 16th century, India was leading in growth. Ironically, this exactly was the phase where we did not intentionally put our focus on GDP numbers, rather, took a more holistic view towards development, and a spillover effect of that was the phenomenal growth record, pointed out Dr. Balasubramaniam.

This had a deep impact on me, and subtly taught a very important lesson. We correlate success with complicated processes whereas the answers lie in simplicity. India just has to look within, realise its unique tends, and capitalise on its strengths. We need an Indian model of growth for India, and not imitate other stories. Before we make in India, we need to make India, India.

Vote is the biggest tool of democracy. It hands the power to choose the leaders of the country in the hands of its citizens. Are we exercising this duty with enough cognizance? It is only a handful of people who judge the candidate and vote on the basis of the manifesto. My limited experience and myopic vision hardly realised this issue. Assuming that we vote based on the manifesto; do we demand accountability from the representative to adhere to the promises? Our inaction oftentimes leads to further damage. Thus, dawned an idea upon us on making this manifesto a legal document. It is a work in progress, like many other policy interventions that were brainstormed in the camp.

That precisely is the magic I am referring to. I feel the difference in my outlook. Before I knew it, my focus shifted from merely picking loopholes, to completely analysing the issue, finding its root cause, and proposing a long term sustainable solution.

A nodal point we miss in this entire exercise, is the emotional and mental stability of the policy maker or the intervener itself.  In our limited group of friends we observe many dynamics, imagine being accountable to an entire constituency or even your entire nation. It is a taxing job. The BootCamp sessions focussed on this aspect as well. Today I can confidently write on behalf of all participants saying that we have come out as stronger individuals.

An interaction opportunity with the cabinet ministers was the cherry on top. Having access to, sitting in the same room as people you look up to and aspire to become is nothing short of a dream. Listening to Mr. Piyush Goyal’s plan on renewable energy in India to Mr. Manohar Parrikar on his take on Make in India for Defence, was inspiring in more ways that words can describe.

The first two days of the camp felt very different. Being an economics student, I was constantly barged with numbers and graphs and theories. We spoke about its application, only to realise how the assumptions were a flaw. The reverse approach was taken in the camp. We first discussed the situation, from all perspectives. The profiles of participants were baffling. There were people who had stood for elections, those with 25 years of political experience, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, ethnographers, etc. The points they brought to the table took discussions as closer to reality and enabled to take a holistic view of every topic. Only post finding the root cause did we shift to finding solutions, discussions of which continued into the night. Readers might wonder how productive a sleep deprived, tired mind can be? Passion, motivation and vision can defy these conventional trends. The rigour and passion did not drop for a second. It in fact increased every second.

Yes, I found myself. Today I can stand tall and say who I am. Not by describing myself with my associations with people, but in terms of my strengths, my dreams and my vision. When 21 days can teach what it otherwise takes a lifetime to learn, you know you have made the right choice.

Thank you Vision India Foundation.

Somya Bajaj was a delegate at Policy BootCamp 2015. She studied economics at Christ University, Bangalore. The views expressed are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Vision India Foundation.