Policy Diplomacy: A Brush with Popular Political Leaders in India
The Policy research framework steer academics to some rare circumstances and which can be described as opportunities. Besides being able to engage the policy makers in formal situations such as scheduled public lectures, inaugural and valedictory address, panel discussions and even book releases; a few experts such as this author do get to meet the top policy makers and select constitutional heads to meet in private. It is not uncommon to find that the academics and policy analysts get caught in the complex political push and pulls and that is risk they bear to hold their ground firm so to speak.
‘PM ne chai pe bulaya hai’, match this rhythmically with a popular song among the teenage girls ‘daddy ne chai pe bulaya hai’ – a daavatnama. Six in the evening of the publication of an OPED – (attached), this author was high on ‘tea’ with the UPA-PM at 7 Racecourse Road. Gripping conversation with a person of convection, ideologically inclusive, highly motivated, visionary and appreciative of what he read in the morning Times of India on October 10, 2004. This date is the origin of now popular Sachar Committee. Most important practical message of ‘this tea-party’ was that Muslim community must find-a-spot of their own in the local socio-political and economic space through mainstream involvement while government acts as a facilitator. There were many more occasions since then to meet the PM in private, exchange views and policy approaches to favor development of Muslims in India.
This reputation also attracted the attention of the President and current Vice President of the Indian National Congress; had the privilege of privately meeting, briefing and making presentations on the issues of human development, poverty alleviation and inclusive development paradigm for India. Commendations must be made as to immense desire to know, understand and articulate policy responses to ensure physical security to India minorities especially the Muslims and Christians. An evidence can be found in organizing a draft a ‘targeted violence and bill’ by the ‘national advisory council’ (http://nac.nic.in/pdf/pctvb.pdf & http://nac.nic.in/pdf/explanatory_note.pdf); and the author was on their advisory committee to deliberate, debate and articulate a policy framework during 2009-2011. For an opposing view of this bill read: https://sites.google.com/site/rammadhav/communal-violence-bill. What is appreciated about these leaders is there strong desire to know, understand and take reasonable actions on policy advice. However, often such actions face failure due to larger socio-political opposition as well as deficit in ‘the number game’ that the Indian Parliament has become to be characteristic; almost as if in the United State of America – the razor thin margins. Note that the Indian Prime Minster does not a right to veto as is the case of the President of United States.
It was in 1999 that the author published a landmark monograph through the Oxford University Press. The relative positions in human development were brought to the knowledge of the people at large according to the socio-religious communities; with data at the level of India and all major state. The human development profile of the Muslims for the first time in the history of India was compared with other religious and social groups and the finding were debated more at the level of the media. The government was not enthusiastic but it did not hamper or tried to stop the publication of the book itself; although the research itself was conducted on behalf of the National Planning Commission. It was during this period, the then NDA-PM would argue with the author that communities will develop only when women were educated and empowered. A bachelor PM believer in gender equality, although this position was divergent with the party and associated ideologies which he represented. It appears often individual beliefs and philosophical undertones matter in policy formulations, as is evident from both the above citations of the authors experience with the Prime Ministers. This NDA-PM indeed inaugurated many conferences including an international on Gender and Poverty which was organized by the author in 2004. During this period, on many occasions this author was invited for private by many cabinet ministers (including human resources ministry, home ministry, finance ministry), and the National Security Council of India.
It was early 2013 that the author delivered a lecture at Ahmedabad to a select group of Muslim business men organized by institutions promoting entrepreneurship, backward and forward market linkages: http://www.clusterpulse.org/ & http://www.globalnetworkindia.com/. This was also the time when a meeting was organized with the Chancellor of the ‘Gujarat Vidya Peeth’ an university established by Mahatma Gandhi himself at Ahmedabad. The author is familiar with Gujarat as he worked at Ahmedabad between 1988-1994. It was during this visit and a result of the media coverage, a special request came - ‘CM ne chai pe bulaya hai’. As professional and policy expert especially in the context of Sachar Committee, it was a responsibility to positively respond and exchange ideas and advise the constitutionally backed-elected representative of a state. It was in this meeting a discussion happened as to why the Muslim community would value education relatively less than other communities. There was no easy answer to this query; it is too complex – such as serious demand and supply issues, quality, type and language of education are too prominent and they are not easy to address especially in fast changing political ideologies at the grassroots level. An important dimension of social life that was agreed in this meeting, to be important was the need for participation of communities including the Muslims in the local panchayats and municipalities. This advise was appreciated and in the context of soon to be conducted panchayat elections in Gujarat.
The privately invited meeting with the current Chief Minister of Karnataka yielded a highly positive bureaucratic response; so was the case with the two erstwhile Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh who made commitments to increase annual budgets favoring the Muslims in grand public meetings organize at the Jubilee Hall. These commitments were indeed found to be put in action subsequently about which the communities in Hyderabad and other areas in the undivided Andhra Pradesh appreciated. The Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka political systems are favorable to the cause of Muslims and they are amply heralded through a number of policy actions including Acts of the State Assemblies. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra for example expressed a special mention to send him my policy papers for closer scrutiny and assimilation. There have also been occasions when a State Chief Minister was at logger head abusing and accusing this author in public such as during television interviews, and that was before the last state elections in West Bengal although there is evidence to the fact a 10 % quota reservations was announced by him on an earlier occasion soon after a mass-public lecture of this author on the streets of Kolkata.
Not the least, the brush with the most recent (Ex) Chief Minister of Delhi has been more on par as members of International Committees on finding alternative solutions to Indian’s high incidence of poverty and low levels of human development. The National Planning Commission organized and United National Development Program supported committees on assessing impact of ‘direct cash transfers’ in India. Often such events are debating-tables, including rhetorical and high emotions but then the data and analysis becomes handy to ensure unsubstantiated views are suppressed. It was on such occasions that author received concurrence support of this Ex CM of Delhi endorsing this author’s point-of-view and evidence. Such support structures are essential in policy circles and policy debates that do take place in a formal – structured environment.
March 12, 2014
Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, Ph.D
Executive Director, US-India Policy Institute, Washington D. C.