Given my background in law, I was certain that the LAMP Fellowship would further my understanding of the Indian Parliamentary system and allow me a very coveted peek into policy-making in India. What I did not count on was being able to put my specialization – a Masters in International Human Rights law – into any specific use on the job. Therefore, I was delighted to be assigned to an MP who was vocal on human rights issues, who valued having a lawyer’s perspective on the same. Working with my MP has been extremely exciting, for it has allowed me to delve into a gamut of topics starting from the very human rights oriented Criminal Law Amendment Bill or the Food Security Bill, down to issues such as India’s Drought Management Policy, FDI and the Land Acquisition laws to name a few, all of which marry human rights concerns with myriad other social, financial and political realities. From office research to constituency visits, from engaging with civil society advocates to interacting with the Indian bureaucracy, Life @ LAMP is as unconventional as it gets. My place in LAMP has afforded me the unique opportunity to straddle the fence that divides law from policy and thoroughly navigate the contours of both. This would undoubtedly be my greatest take-away from this Fellowship.
It all started in June 2011.
I had taken a big risk joining the LAMP Fellowship. Ours is only the second cohort of Legislative Assistants and I was apprehensive about it. Now, I can say that I took the right decision. I am glad I am a Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament because this Fellowship has taught me so many things that any other initiative would never have. A Member of Parliament has to concern himself with everything that goes on in the country. He has to keep himself updated to take better decisions. Here is where we LAMP Fellows come in. PRS Legislative Research has trained me to research on any topic under the sun and keep my MP updated.
My MP is particularly interested in issues related to the youth of India. During the time I have been assigned to my MP, I have done research in the field of primary and higher education. He is concerned with the rising rates of drop outs in primary schools, and asked me to collect data on this issue. To achieve what he had requested, I had to go through all the current policies implemented by the government that concern primary education. The most recent of these is the Right to Education Act. I briefed him about the gaps I perceived in the Act and how I best thought they could be filled. I set up meetings with the people who are in charge of monitoring the implementation of the RTE. We gained a lot of inputs from these meetings.
Another issue that he wanted me to research is the restoration and maintenance of historical monuments. We went to meet experts from the Agha Khan Trust to hear their advice on the issue. The valuable inputs we got from them made it possible for us to come up with ways to protect monuments in a cost effective way. The experience of interacting with so many experts is truly enriching.
When people ask me what I do, I say that I work for a Member of Parliament. The reactions I get after that can't be explained in words. I am proud of what I am currently doing and I feel that I am contributing to make this country a better place. I used to shirk whenever politics was mentioned earlier. Now, I am actually considering a career in politics.
As a LAMP fellow, a typical work day (when the Parliament is in session) involves framing and submitting Parliamentary Questions, Matters of Urgent Public importance that my MP would want to raise in the Parliament, working on supplementary interventions, and meeting all the deadlines set out by the Parliamentary Secretariat. It’s a small contribution to my MP’s work but it keeps his mind free and helps him take up larger issues.
When the Parliament is not in session, work generally revolves around preparing for the next session, drafting private member bills, working on speeches that my MP is required to deliver on various platforms, and attending workshops and training sessions organised by PRS.
My most important moment as a fellow was when my MP raised an issue drafted by me, for the very first time. It was an intervention on preserving the language and culture of tribes in Kerala and it taught me the magnitude of my responsibility. Even though I function within the confines of a schedule and various deadlines, no two days are alike in my life as a LAMP.
Working as a LAMP Fellow has been an extremely satisfying experience – there’s a certain amount of pride that comes in the knowledge that you are supporting elected officials, in however limited a capacity, in representing the people who voted for them.
It has also afforded me a chance to work on a diverse set of issues and interacting with policy experts working in different areas, ranging from climate-change, labour-laws, drug abuse and sustainable development, especially in the mountains. I have had an opportunity to work on Private Member Bill, which was introduced during the Winter Session.
Apart from working on tasks for the MP, the Fellows are afforded a chance to interact with different stakeholders and experts through regular training sessions and workshops organized by PRS. In addition, there is a lot to learn from the interactions with the Fellows themselves, who come from diverse backgrounds ranging from media, law and fashion!
The LAMP Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to contribute towards nation-building by aiding a Member of Parliament in holding the Government accountable, in policy-making at Parliament, and through people-oriented development at the constituency.
Meaningful discussions with my MP on different matters and interaction with key ministers and departmental secretaries in the government have been very interesting and insightful. They have busted the popular and cynical myths about those in public office.
Being a LAMP Fellow is highly rewarding though the nature of an individual Fellow’s experience varies widely depending upon the parliamentarian he/she has been assigned to and the level of professionalism, trust, excellent working relationship among the LAMP, the parliamentarian and his support stuff. Personally, I consider it an incredible initiation into the country’s realpolitik as well as a first-hand experience of the practice of the parliamentary and legislative process of India. The Fellowship does have its crests and troughs. While the time during parliamentary sessions is relatively busy with regular and tight deadlines for parliamentary submissions and extensive research, the inter-session periods are leaner with slower work pace. This however provides an excellent opportunity to reflect upon and prepare for a future career after the completion of the Fellowship. Another issue that may be of concern to some Fellows is the difference in political ideologies (for my part sometimes political naivety) between the LAMP and the parliamentarian, as the unbiased nature of the program demands a random assignment of LAMPs without considering their political inclinations. The one word that I would use for the program based solely upon my experiences as a LAMP is however thrilling, because believe me, nothing beats the thrill of watching my MP debating in the Indian Parliament on a topic I prepared for him or presenting Bills that I drafted to a considerable extent. That’s how all our hard work is appreciated, our contribution to the Indian nation.
This Fellowship has been a pleasant shock. The fact that so many MP’s I have interacted with, are playing such an active role in creating a new political culture, focusing on facilitating the participation of the emerging generation, has made me realize that we’re here, now and ought to take charge. Shying away from politics or branding it as untouchable is not an option anymore; should never have been. The MP I work for is the sole representative of his party in parliament. It is fascinating to see how a minority party member intervenes and represents his agenda, when compared to a larger party that has a greater say in any matter. He encourages me to sit in on intense political discussions, and other engagements with the media and also to travel to the field and witness the consequences of decisions made or not made in the political and policy sphere. To aid him in debates, conferences, speeches, parliament meetings and also to stimulate my personal growth I worked on fascinating topics that covered Defence, Minority affairs, Human rights, Terrorism to name just a few. And FDI of course. This Fellowship is not just restricted to research work. A visit to a backward district in Orissa for 10 days exposed us to the complexities of development, industrialization, and Naxalism. A few of us had the privilege of witnessing the FDI debate and subsequent voting in both the houses in December. Rubbing shoulders every single day, with people making decisions affecting every one of us, presents an opportunity to assist in the same, however brief or small our contribution. As a Legislative aide to an MP, virtually any door opens to you in terms of networking with people from diverse backgrounds at highest echelons of both Government and Industry. Using this platform to explore your interest areas is advisable, keeping in mind the short duration of this fellowship.
The most important thing that I have gained so far from the course of this fellowship, is the sense of how things function in the apex body of policy making in our country. It has provided me with tangible knowledge of the technical aspect of parliamentary work, and also the normative experience of how an MP and his office functions. The highlights have obviously been the times when my MP has directly used my research on the floor of the house. Whenever that has happened, it has always filled me up with a renewed sense of pride. From the position where I am in, to be able to contribute directly to the functioning of an MP and, thus to the functioning of the house is quiet a satisfying feeling.
To work as Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament is unlike any work experience that can be afforded to a fresh graduate. The reward of this experience lies in understanding and managing the complex dynamics involved in each day’s work.
Although there is no typical day, one can expect to prepare analysis of bills on subject as diverse as foreign direct investment in insurance to e-auction of coal mines, move amendments to bills introduced in the House to drafting an actual legislation in shape of private member bill. Each day could present itself as a challenge in form of understanding broad ranging issues and presenting them in a form that they could be used effectively by your MP by raising questions and matters of public importance in the House.
LAMP experience has taught me flexibility and adaptability to do research on topics that were out of my comfort zone. As a law graduate, the experience has evolved my understanding of law and the rules that govern law making and appreciate how law could be shaped to encourage beneficial behaviour.
The one thing that has changed in me after being a part of this fellowship is the mindset that we collectively hold about politics and politicians. We give them way too little credit for the hard work that they put in.
The best part of being a LAMP Fellow is the opportunity it gives you to view India’s economic and developmental issues from the lens of policymaker, as opposed to our concerns as the common man. In concrete terms, this has meant that I learn to use quantitative analysis and logical, strategic thinking as the basis for my research, which my MP uses to make informed policy recommendations. Tangible results like seeing your work being quoted on the floor of the House in Parliament in focal debates like the FDI in multi-brand retail debate make the work immensely satisfying. No two LAMP Fellows have the same yearlong experience. Particularly gratifying in my case has been the ability to support my MP make better informed investments in the development space by providing him with bespoke research to confront critical development challenges in the context of limited resources. Additionally, a constituency visit to one of the most backward areas of the country like Bolangir, Orissa has reinforced my belief in the need for evidence-based research to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of governmental schemes, enabling them to better fulfill their desired policy outcomes.
The best part of being a LAMP Fellow is that no two days are similar. Every day presents a new challenge. Working with a senior MP, I have to be on my toes throughout. To the extent that during Parliament sessions, I watched the news on TV right before I slept and even woke up to the news, in order to identify issues that would be taken up during the day on the Parliament floor.
The work does not end with identifying an issue. Your research has to be able to provide a comprehensive background of the issue, mapping out the reasons and possible future implications in the given policy context. This is where the job transforms from a researcher to an advisor. While briefing an MP, one needs a complete understanding of the issue and be able to judge the importance of it and the possible ramifications, as seen from the MP’s perspective. The challenge lies in the details. For example, you may be a management graduate with no knowledge of chemicals and pesticides, but you may be required to prepare a brief on the harmful effects of Endosulphan and its alternatives in an hours’ time. Not to mention, the quality needs to be top-notch, as the MPs could use the brief for Parliamentary debates or in other public platforms including television interviews.
My work has involved diverse activities such as preparing issue briefs, bill analysis and parliamentary questions and discussions. The learning experience has been tremendous and I am sure, this will help me immensely in attaining my future career goals.
My LAMP experience this far has been like nothing else I've done in the past. Not simply because I work for a Member of Parliament, but because the breadth of research and exposure my work entails is fascinating. From closely monitoring a few sectors to positioning the MP’s take every time a big news story erupts, the experiences have been unique and challenging in their own way. The highlight of the Fellowship for me has been the mentoring I’ve received from the MP I work for and the general conversations I’ve had with him. Both of these have improved my style of work, writing and general understanding of Indian politics and politicians. Simultaneously, the Fellowship has tested my potential to work in areas I might not have had previous interest or experience in, and has thrown at me challenges of working in a relatively unstructured environment. On the whole, the profile of work put together with speaker sessions and other events organized by PRS, and the nature and frequency of informal debates/discussions with other LAMP Fellows has made the overall Fellowship experience truly enriching.
The most amazing aspect of the fellowship for me, is that, on the first day of my work itself, I was provided with instant access, trust and responsibility of a Member of Parliament, which otherwise would have taken me at least 10 years of work experience. The Fellowship is interesting as it fundamentally altered my perspectives and challenged my thinking on several social issues in correlation with existing policy prescriptions. For me, the Fellowship has also been intellectually engaging. The insights I got provided me a opportunity to draw a link between concepts and theories of Development Economics and State building, which I have learned as part of my Masters in Development Studies.
The LAMP Fellowship has improved my knowledge and broadened my horizons, empowering me to be of assistance to Parliamentarians, who can make a difference to the people they represent.
Working for my MP has been a great learning experience. I have worked on a wide variety of topics, preparing materials for his Parliamentary work, issue briefs, talking points and researching for articles. I have also had the opportunity to start work on private member bills that he thinks should be introduced in the House. It is very humbling when I see some of my efforts brought to light in Parliament or picked up by the media.
Working with him is a pleasure since he is meticulous and professional. He takes out time to hear my views and discuss issues. He is a great mentor and has given me opportunities to meet experts, and to attend discussions and meetings.
I have developed a deep sense of respect for our Parliamentarians, as I see them keep very busy schedules and work incessantly on a variety of issues. I have also started appreciating the role that regional parties play in the policy debate and the Indian political system.
I was selected as a LAMP Fellow this year, and joined with the desire to make use of my education for a broader cause. Sure enough, I know I’m in the right place!
I know that I have made the right choice in my life when I am learning by probing. I strongly believe that learning and probing is where the miracle process begins. The LAMP Fellowship has been more than a miracle in my life. I call it a miracle owing to the amount of exposure, knowledge, experience and skills that I have gained so far in a short span of seven months. I would not have expected my life to be more dynamic and challenging than this. Everyday I get to assist my MP on a new topic where my research and statistics have to be as much detailed and accurate as possible. Reading newspapers and watching news channels has become a part of my daily routine. I don’t think I would have ever learnt and understood how to surf through the Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha website had it not been for the LAMP Fellowship. The skill of drafting policy briefs, parliamentary questions and research on policy issues that I have gained from PRS has helped me sail through smoothly so far while working for my MP. The speaker series and public policy courses organized by PRS during the inter-session period has been one of the most intellectually satiating experiences. It is a lifetime opportunity to interact in person with the policy makers whom we watch on television everyday. Had it not been for the LAMP Fellowship, I don’t think I would have ever had access to such eminent policy makers at a young age.
The highlight of working with an MP so far has been the realization that our Members of Parliament work much harder than we give them credit for. This is something that I can vouch for, given the number of Bill Summaries and issue briefs I’ve had to prepare for my MP, many of them at extremely short notice.
Recognizing how hard our Parliamentarians work is especially significant given the political environment prevalent in India today, where fundamental questions are being raised about the democratic nature of our polity, and the character of our representatives. Interacting with them on a one-on-one basis reveals not only their intelligence, but also the acute awareness they possess of wide-ranging issues.
Working with an MP from North-East, brings with itself a different set of challenges unique to the region. The first task for me was to familiarize myself with the history of the state my MP represents, the issues it faces and the challenges it needs to overcome. This examination of local issues has been immensely enlightening and has revealed to me a region of India that is fascinating.
Working out of my MP’s office space has meant that I have interacted with people from diverse backgrounds, all of whom are engaging with the democratic process in multiple capacities. This has given me a better insight of how our political system actually works.