Missing in Action: Why you should care about public policy

Title: Missing in Action: Why you should care about public policy

Authors: Pranay Kotasthane and Raghu S. Jaitley

Pages: 342

Price: Rs. 399

Publishers: Penguin

The lives of citizens are governed by State policies and therefore it is extremely important to understand all aspects of policy making. Policies in a democracy are made by the elected representatives of the people and administered by the executive. The success of policies plays a very important role in the success of nations and therefore understanding policy making is especially important for students of political science and those of us associated with think tanks.

This book helps us understand how policy making is achieved in India. Why do some policies work – such as the Employment Guarantee Scheme, Digital Payments protocols or the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana under which direct bank transfers are made to the poor? What has been the impact of Demonetisation and what about the impact and consequences of the Agnipath Scheme under which a large section of the soldiers in the Indian military will be recruited on a four-year contractual basis?

What are the elements that go into policy making in India; the manipulation of policies and the failure of policies while looking good on paper?

These are the many questions that this book examines and helps one understand policy making in India.

A friend of PIC, Pranay Kotasthane is deputy director of the Takshashila Institution and chairs the High Tech Geopolitics Programme. He has spoken at the Pune International Centre earlier when PIC and Takshashila partnered on a seminar on the Ukraine war in 2022. Pranay has been working in the public policy space quite intensely and he writes Anticipating the Unintended, a popular newsletter on Indian public policy ideas and frameworks, and co-hosts Puliyabaazi, a popular Hindi-Urdu podcast on politics and policy and technology.

His co-author, Raghu S. Jaitley is a public policy and political economy enthusiast. Raghu, with Pranay, co-writes Anticipating the Unintended.

The authors point out that while public policies are all around us, the public is poorly informed about them. There is very little debate, discussion and analysis of government policies in the public fora and often, the politicians and bureaucrats use and misuse public policy with impunity.

The manner in which draconian laws such as the one on sedition has been abused in attacking and silencing political opponents is a case in point. Likewise is the targeting of political opponents through law enforcement agencies to force them to change political allegiance.

The authors say that while the privileged in India can afford not to think about the State “because we have given up on it,” the poor have resigned themselves to a State that provides short-term benefits.

The book presents a number of examples and explains issues through fundamental concepts, the compulsions and the thinking in policy making and the constraints and implementation. It is peppered with a number of memorable dialogues from Bollywood hits which makes the reading entertaining.

This book of 340 pages has 28 chapters divided in three sections – Sarkar, Bazar and Samaj – and gives deep insights into the character of the Indian State; the power-play of market forces and the complexities of Indian society with its myriad castes and sub-castes; income inequalities and social challenges.

Dr. Vijay Kelkar, Vice President, PIC, has complimented the authors and has recommended this book with his endorsement. Pointing out that policy outcomes are the result of the three important forces: society, market and the Government, he says, “The book has many real-life examples of both policy triumphs and disasters in our country and the authors lucidly explain the how and why. I would urge you to read this remarkably perceptive book that is analytically rich while making the learning ride very enjoyable.”

Ms. Rohini Nilekani, philanthropist and author of Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar: a citizen-first approach, has also endorsed this book, stating that “it helps readers understand why the Indian State is the way it is – powerful yet ineffective, well-intentioned yet weak, and ambitious yet underperforming. A must-read for everyone!”

(Summary by Abhay Vaidya, Director, PIC)