The last six months of my life - in my first ever job after college, as a legislative assistant, has been a greatly eventful period. Even as I underwent the gruelling three week training session with PRS, reading several dense, important looking documents and attempting to turn them into 'briefs' and summaries, I knew that this was a job, that could have a significant impact on the Parliament of our country!
I started off in the Monsoon session this year, eager as much as anxious. It all happened very quick - three weeks of non-sleep training time, a lot of 'which MP will I get' conversation and getting to know the fifteen freaks (I mean it in the warmest way!) that were going to be my colleagues for the next few months.
The first session flew by. There were a lot of documents to read, and very many fifteen minute deadlines. I felt like I heard learnt and done more in that period, than I had in all of college. I started to understand better the entire process of policy making in our country, and in many ways, my opinions underwent an alteration and refinement.
I remember this one evening, when I walked out of my MP's office, at about six in the evening. He had just expressed his appreciation for a speech I had written out for him. I think I danced a bit as soon as I was a decent distance away!
In between session, I spent three weeks in Orissa, meeting with the district officials and getting a basic understanding of the ground level issues in the constituency. I took back to Delhi a lot of information, some which I poured through, identifying what specific issues I could help my MP raise - as questions, 377 notices or Zero hour discussions.
I would say that the best thing about my role is actually seeing the results of my work. I think it is fantastic when the question I have made gets asked on the floor of the house, or a point I have raised in an issue brief becomes part of my MP's speech or statement.
I would highly recommend this program. At 21, and looking to study policy in the future, I couldn't hope for a better exposure.
Life after the LAMP Fellowship : Post my eleven month stint as a LAMP Fellow, I've had the opportunity to
work on a reasonable variety of subjects with different organisations. –The first of these was a study for UNAIDS, on the Role of State Legislatures on HIV and AIDS related interventions. Working at a UN agency was perhaps one of my most cherished high school dreams, and I was able to leverage upon my experience as a LAMP Fellow to get there. I am also doing some freelance writing for the Confederation of Indian Industry and have sat in on some very interesting industry - government interaction sessions in the last few weeks. In October I will begin work as a volunteer for Global Xchange - I will spend three months in a UK community and another three months in Rajasthan along with a 20 person contingent of UK and Indian volunteers. I realize that my work as a LAMP Fellow has helped me understand the domain a lot better, and my experiences have certainly added credibility to the positions and programs I have applied for.
I was informed about the LAMP program by one of my friend right after I had taken my final year exams in June 2010. I applied immediately and was one of the fifteen to get selected.
I have learnt a great number of things in this short span of time. I have learned that contrary to popular belief, politicians work a lot! I have researched on a number of bills across various sectors such as agriculture, education and even the Civil Liability Nuclear Damage Bill. In fact, I worked not only for Mr. Naresh Gujral but for several other MPs of the Siromani Akali Dal.
In between Parliament sessions, I was given committee-related work and I got the opportunity to also work on a Private Members' Bill. As a recent law graduate, it has been quite an experience!
Moinul Hassan / Communist Party of India (Marxist) / Rajya Sabha
We are living in the times where fresh graduates, or for that matter, anyone seeking a decent job will scramble to get employment in the corporate arena. Only a few venture into the world of politics, which is one of the reasons why I was very keen on joining the LAMP programme. a
MP Moinul Hassan belongs to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and I have been assisting him with framing questions, calling attentions and special mentions. What amazed me the most was the time when he had asked me to give him talking points for a discussion on the Mangalore air crash while he was heading to Parliament from the airport. He spoke on the issue going through my mail on his Blackberry, which is supposedly the first time any member has read out points which haven't been typed out on official paper. Since then, he has been very appreciative and trusts me with confidential documents. The experience so far has changed my perception of politicians to an extent, and I hope to gain the most from it.
Life after the LAMP Fellowship : After going through a year of involvement in policy and governance, I got a chance to work with a renowned politician and economist, Mr N.K. Singh. I took up this opportunity as it entailed a certain amount of Public Relations (a field I would like to venture into later on). Also, I realized that being executive aide to a Parliamentarian would give me a better understanding of the manner in which our economy functions. I am currently working on the MP’s social media networking and website development, which quite interests me. I hope to gain a good level of experience during the course of this job.
Adil Rana Chhina
Asaduddin Owaisi / All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen / Lok Sabha
After graduating, I came to hear about the LAMP Fellowship. I had always been interested in research work even during my college years. I wanted to know more about how the Parliament functioned and saw this as an opportunity that would help me better understand the way the policy system in the country works.
I was assigned to Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, a Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad. My first month on the job, when Parliament was in session, was very exhausting but equally exciting. I slowly got into the flow of things and started to understand the MP's research needs. The session time was probably the most hectic part of the job. During session I had to conduct research on various topical issues and prepare talking points for the MP. I also had to provide him with bill summaries on the bills that were being discussed during the Monsoon session like the Nuclear Liability Bill and the Enemy Property Amendment Bill to name a few.
Among other things, I have researched on and written speeches for various conferences that the MP has attended and provided him with talking points for media appearances as well.
Anurag Singh Thakur / Bharatiya Janata Party / Lok Sabha
The LAMP programme has widened my perspective and helped me develop as an individual. Coming into the programme I had a few apprehensions, which are inbuilt in us due to the media-led perceptions - whether MPs are efficient enough and justify the power that they wield, and whether they use this to the best of their ability and the benefit of the people at large. All these were thrown out of the window after the first few days. The amount of work an MP puts in is quite remarkable. The number of people he/she meets on a daily basis, duties related to their parliamentary work and obligations that they need to fulfil - kudos to them for the effort that they put in.
Since this was my first job after graduation, I was prepared for the worst. But the transition was quite seamless. Even though I am not looking at a future in policy making, the programme has been wholesome and has fulfilled most of the expectations I had when I took it up.
The tasks performed by a LAMP are varied - including writing speeches, conducting research on legislation or issue briefs for the MP. Each assignment leaves you with a sense of achievement and pride, especially when the information you have provided is used in the political arena.
My experience of working with an MP has been very fruitful. My MP is extremely open to new ideas and this helps me in proactively contributing to the issues she wants to highlight. Since my MP represents a state where tribal issues are important, one of the best experiences in the LAMP Programme for me so far has been meeting people from various fields who work on tribal rights. This has not only given me a better understanding of the issues in tribal areas, but also helped me see the different perspectives held by NGOs, the administration and research organisations. The difference in opinion amongst the experts and the complex nature of the problems in tribal areas has made my work more interesting. Being just out of college, this programme has provided experiences that have taught us a valuable professional and personal lessons which will always prove handy. On a personal note, I have learnt the importance of being persistant. As a law student, besides the legislative research work, the process of seeing how our parliamentary system works has been the best part of my internship.
I joined this programme because I wanted to widen my understanding of the nature of politics and policy making in India. The LAMP programme was the only way I knew then to engage with the legislative process at any level.
It was a revelation for me to realise the level of commitment our MPs have to their work. Following parliament sessions closely, for the first time, on Rajya Sabha TV, Lok Sabha TV and the websites, I realised the depth of debate that goes into the entire process. My job has been to assist MP Prakash Javadekar and has involved observing his method of work, writing questions, creating notes on issues, forming Calling Attention and Short Duration Discussion notices, etc. What I have struggled with is the apolitical design of the LAMP programme. I shall come away from this experience with a deeper understanding of our system of parliamentary democracy, both conceptually as well as practically, and several new questions, which is what I was aiming for.
'It looks like a democracy. It talks like a democracy. But don't be fooled. It really is a democracy (Groucho Marx).' India's democratic experiment is distinctively full of fuzzy areas, and to me, the LAMP programme perhaps best epitomizes the uniqueness with which civil society organizations such as PRS have created spaces for themselves in India's socio-economic and in this context, political matrix.
Life after the LAMP Fellowship : Following LAMP 2010 I have returned to school. I am currently enrolled as a student at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, pursuing an inter-disciplinary M.Phil programme in the social sciences.
I started the LAMP programme brimming with excitement. Being the only programme of its kind, it gave me the chance to gain first hand knowledge on legislative and policy issues. Considering it was a pilot project, I had certain apprehensions. But looking back now, I feel the risk has paid off!
I got the opportunity to work with Mr. Milind Deora, and the journey has been fairly interesting. Since Mr. Deora is an MP from South Mumbai, the parliamentary work essentially revolves around the 'Maximum City.' My research has not just been confined to parliamentary work, infact there has been an equal amount of constituency work. The projects have been interesting and diversified, whether it is parliamentary questions, research for PILs, constituency newsletters, analyses of standing committee reports or research for op-ed writing pieces, the variety in the work kept me going.
Yes, we all have certain images of MPs in mind and our own perception towards the work MPs perform. But, when one is involved in actual work with them, the first thing that strikes you is the amount of knowledge they posses and the hard work they put in. Not to forget their excellent time and people management skills. Working with Mr. Deora has been pretty smooth and he comes across as a forthright person with a lot of clarity in his thoughts. He is brimming with ideas, is practical and erudite. No matter how occupied he is, you get a quick response to every email you send him!
Summing up, I think it's been an enriching experience. I was continuously learning something or the other. Each day is different (especially during the session time) and the Lok Sabha website has definitely become my Google!
Having taken up an analyst position at a consultancy just after college, I started missing the debates broader issues that my friends and I used to have while scripting street plays in college. I came across the opportunity that the LAMP program provided. Though a ten-month internship seemed more ad-hoc than a permanent job, I was sure that my learning would be much more fruitful here. In hindsight, it has really worked well for me.
During the training period, we had a chance to delve into issues that made lines as well as the lesser known issues that were as important. We worked on subjects across disciplines and sectors.
I was keen on visiting the constituency of an MP and thus initially was a little disappointed that I was assigned to a Rajya Sabha MP. However, as my work progressed I realised that my disappointment was totally unfounded. As a former bureaucrat, Mr N. K. Singh has an insightful way of approaching policy issues. In the first few days, I struggled to keep pace with his ideas but I soon was able to ascertain his style of working and the types of issues he seeks to raise. I was also delighted to find that he was initiating work on a book on 'Parliamentary Oversight.' Mr. Singh has been kind enough to assign significant issues for research for the book to me that, which is proving to be both challenging and satisfying.
Other than working for my MP, we had the opportunity to work on issues to help the larger public understand the working of the Parliament in a better manner. The topics were such that they were mostly not written about before. It gave a whole new experience of data gathering that we were never exposed to during college.
Even though my work keeps me busy most of the time, there is a level of unpredictability that comes with working with Parliamentarians, especially because the Parliament adjourns often and without notice. That takes a little time to get used to. However, as a 21 year old, I do not think I could have come close to the epicentre of our democracy had it not been for the LAMP program. It has not only given me a chance to work on diverse subjects but in some way it gives a chance for my work to be heard in the Parliament. It is absolutely delightful to see ministers taking notes when your MP is reading off your research in the Parliament!
Life after the LAMP Fellowship : The LAMP Fellowship firmed my decision to pursue Development Studies. I felt that I would be able to understand policy better after being exposed to various established theories of development and studying developmental models used in other countries. I was admitted to the London School of Economics (LSE) for a M.Sc. Development Studies course. Consequently, I came across an international fellowship from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation which selects 30 people from four countries- US, UK, India and Canada. The selected fellows work on inter-faith action on UN Millennium development goals in their own countries after undergoing a month long inter-faith training in London. I am one of the four fellows from India who have been selected as a Faiths Act Fellow this year.
Tony Blair Faith Foundation has placed me with an NGO Kutumb foundation for this year to work on a maternal health project in Ghevra, a slum resettlement colony in Delhi. As an aspiring politician- it seems a great thing to do after the LAMP fellowship, getting grass root experience after a hardcore policy exposure. The LAMP experience also gives me an edge as I am better aware of entitlements of the community that I work with and ways to get the system working! Post the Faiths Act Fellowship, I will head to the LSE for my Development Studies course.
As a Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament, I have had the privilege of getting a ringside view of the complex mechanics of the political system of the country. Working closely with a regional party MP was particularly interesting because it enabled me to understand multi-party coalition politics, a vital feature of our present Parliamentary system.
While there is much to be proud of in India's achievements as a vibrant democracy, there is a large amount of work to be done to ensure that Parliament functions in an efficient manner. This is where PRS and the LAMPs Fellowship fill a void and provide timely effective research services to our MPs. This program is significant and unique in nature as it is structured along the lines of similar programs in Westminster and the US Congress and is the best way for young and motivated citizens to actively get involved in the political contours of India.
The role of a Legislative Assistant can be awfully exasperating at times but in the end it is deeply gratifying and consequential. The exasperating bit comes into play during those late nights when one is pouring over endless reams of government data in order to find that perfect bit of information that lends credence to your argument. Getting pertinent information from civil servants whose job it often seems, is to deflect prying questions is also part of the challenge. However, nothing can overcome the satisfaction that is felt when the MP reads out your prepared statement on the floor of the House.
In contextualizing the LAMP programme, one has to first understand, as I did, that our elected representatives are also very crucially legislators, which is a task which is given minimal importance. Apart from my initial amazement at the multiple roles my MP performed everyday, I was rather struck by the seriousness with which he performed his legislative responsibilities. Despite his hectic schedule, he always found time to plan in advance his week's research and Parliamentary agenda. On more than one occasion, I saw my MP reading out questions, speeches, 377s which I'd spent so much time researching. And unapologetically, I felt a thrill every time I saw that.
The research itself had to be extremely accurate, crisp and sharp. Given that a Legislator is meant to act as a check on the Executive, data had to be verified and the sources had to immaculate. The fear of being slighted on the floor of the House on sources or data collection was so great that I continuously sought verification from PRS, who were always most helpful.
A brief comment about the fellow LAMPS is required. Most of them are young graduates, and the work environment is quite amiable. On the whole, it is most interesting to observe diverse backgrounds, academic and personal, fusing together in a salad bowl of sorts. For a programme of such potential and scope, the nature in the way the work is conducted is pleasantly informal. Even the MPs personal staff was very professional, which makes the work that much more enjoyable.
Summing up, the experience has been quite interesting. The confidence and respect with which my MP has treated me with, the support that PRS has given and the opportunity that the LAMP programme has provided, induce me to speak in nothing but glowing terms. I sincerely believe that this initiative has the unique opportunity to usher in an era of quality parliamentary deliberation and hopefully better policies. I feel honoured to have helped get the ball rolling.
To my knowledge there does not exist any course, institute, or an academic programme which, contains the spectrum of activities, information and opportunities, which PRS Legislative Research does. It is easily a dream fulfilled for any young person to be in the thick of the activities of Parliament. This experience of working closely with Parliamentarians of our country, as a Legislative Assistant, proved to be a valuable opportunity and an eye-opener.
Working with legislators has not only provided me with a unique learning experience, but dispelled stereotypes about the work culture of our politicians. They have not only come across as hard working individual, but have also surprised me with their vast knowledge on the multifarious subjects, with enthusiasm to learn about new things happening around them.
Getting an opportunity to work and contribute towards policy formation and law making of our country not only comes with a huge responsibility but also provides significant satisfaction.