Are public policies really ‘public’?

While public policy and its related disciplines have received greater attention in last few years, the scope of the analysis has been very limited. Most of the times the discourse is just about whether one agrees or disagrees with a particular policy or a set of recommendations the government has come up with. People at the periphery figures in these discussions only if there is a flood or draught like situation, or epidemic or the large-scale violence which has taken the ‘democratic’ policy out of its slumber.

We only see a crisis in agriculture, when there are farmers’ suicide in large numbers. We tend to realise the gravity of Naxalite ‘problem’ only when the CRPF men are ambushed. The situation has to be overly dramatic to get attention of our policy makers. Dana Manjhi had to walk back home with his wife’s dead body on his shoulders as the government denied helping him, only to become a spectacle later on, to make us realise that poor did not have enough money even to cremate their loved ones. For the people sitting in the core, the people at the periphery are either the victims or the aggressors. Tribals should be held responsible for not letting the government develop them and their areas, saving the environment, hence a bottleneck in the ‘ease of doing business’ in the policy of the government. If they resist, they should be declared the ‘unwanted hindrances’ in path of development, to be either displaced or killed at the wishes of the state. It is not that we do not hear the ‘policy wonks’ enlightening us with their suggestions on these issues, but these policy recommendations are as dislocated and distant as these policy-makers are from the crude reality of a life a tribal in Odisha or Dalit in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh or a working woman in a chawls of Dharavi. We discussed the case of the missing ‘public’ from the public policy. To me, the public policy solutions have been a bit like the prescriptions of an allopathic doctor, who feels duty-bound to cure the diseased body of a patient, by disenfranchising the same person from his or her body and here the body-politic is seen as the diseased.

The reading titled as “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” came very handy when I wanted to understand the policy choices and how decisions are made. It led me to rethink the way I generally list down the different interventions. I also realised that the manipulation in form of empty rhetoric and symbolism actually does more harm to the cause. The usual ‘participatory’ exercises end up in the mockery of the very idea of the ‘participation’. We generally list out our priority in life, without giving them much thought. Though it might look very nonchalance at the first look, but even these listings are very structured and emerged out of our primary and secondary socialisations.

The book titled as ‘Policy’ by H. K. Colebatch introduced the whole gamut of ideas which were not so clear to me before. The most insightful was the rejection of the idea of delinking of the policy process with the outcomes. Public policy as a separate mode of analysis was originated in the department of US Universities, with Economics as the mainstay of such an analysis. Many dimensions which later became integral part of policy analysis, were just the add-ons, when the need was felt for the sectoral analysis, by bringing in diverse perspectives from fields such as sociology, law, environment, gender etc. The adoption of structured interaction and social construction approaches seem to the natural progression from the earlier approaches as they were found inadequate in explaining a social phenomenon.

EdTech, Educational Data Sciences, Childhood Studies, History of Education & Policy Sociology, curate @central_ed , Currently @IIMAhmedabad

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