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Ambassadors of democracy

Five youngsters had the privilege of interning at the Lok Sabha secretariat. This elusive opportunity, they say, will change their lives reports Vimal Chander Joshi

education Updated: Apr 07, 2010 09:39 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi
Vimal Chander Joshi
Hindustan Times

Navika Harshi is a postgraduate in economics and aspires to study for a doctorate too. Recently, she had the privilege of learning how the country’s annual budget is prepared and presented – straight from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

This was part of a year-long Lok Sabha internship she underwent with four other interns. During the period, each one of them did research on a topic of their choice for which they were free to seek the help of members of Parliament, its rich library and the archives, reports, which are not-so-readily available elsewhere.

Among the privileges they got, the interns also attended the opening address to the 15th Lok Sabha by the President of India, the presentation of the budget in the house, orientation programme designed for first time MPs, and witnessed the 2009 general elections.

Elavarasi Mahendran, a postgraduate in political science from Chennai, is the first graduate in her family. Thanks to the Lok Sabha internship, she got another lifetime opportunity in the form of the South and Central Asia Fellowship, Washington, which began last week. “The Lok Sabha internship has transformed my life completely. The fellowship that I recently received is a testimony to that as I was among the three fellows selected from six Asian countries. The selection committee of the fellowship had faith in me only because I was a Lok Sabha intern,” says Mahendran.

The Lok Sabha secretariat officials call these interns ambassadors of democracy. “We have invited young Indians from different parts of the country to witness the functioning of Parliament from close quarters. Very few Indians are aware of the efficacy of the parliamentary committees, which work even when the Parliament is not in session,” says a senior officer in the Lok Sabha secretariat who did not wish to be named.

Though many Indians don’t have lots of good things to say about politicians, Mahendran says they could not be more wrong. She has developed a soft corner for them following her internship. “It was a pleasant surprise to see MPs preparing for the sessions and to watch them arrange relevant documents and reports during the question hour. Hats off to them,” she says.

Hem Borker, the only intern from Delhi, had a very good reason to join up for the internship. She is a graduate in history from St Stephen's and Master of Social Work (MSW) from Delhi University and has worked in the development sector. Like other NGO activists, she also had some doubts about the government.

The internship gave her an opportunity to understand the other side of the social problems.

Ajit Phadnis and Saji Albert, other two interns, are management graduates and aspire to become politicians. But Harshi didn’t have any social goals to meet. She joined the internship primarily for her career growth. “I want to pursue a PhD in economics to become a university teacher. My internship project was on ‘Accountability of critical financial institutions – the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority’. Just because I was in Parliament, I could access all the reports on RBI since its inception in 1934,” says Harshi.

At a glance
A postgraduate in subjects such as social science, law, journalism, finance, management and in the age group of 21-28 years, can send his/her application to the Bureau of Parliamentary Training and Studies (BPTS), Lok Sabha Secretariat. Last date to apply was February 20 this year.
. Around 100 applications are shortlisted by the BPTS. These candidates are called for an interview.
. The seven-member internship committee selects only five people. The interns are also paid a stipend of Rs 18,000 per month.
. Interns undergo an orientation programme following which each one of them has to suggest a research proposal – under the ambit of democracy and Parliament.
. They attend Lok Sabha library every day between 10 to 6 pm on weekdays where they work on their project. While carrying out their research, they can seek the help of MPs, ministers, and books, data and reports available in Parliament.
. Every month, interns are made to submit a report and at the end of one year, they have to share their entire research and its findings with the committee.
. They receive certificates from the Lok Sabha Speaker when one-year internship is over

First-person account
After my engineering from IIT Bombay and management from IIM Bangalore, I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers in Bangalore where I worked in the division that monitors and helps improve efficiency of government projects. I consciously signed up for this division because I was keen on joining politics. After that, I applied for the Lok Sabha internship, where one gets the privilege to witness the functioning of the legislature at close quarters.

The topic of my research was ‘Parliament as an institution’. I chose this topic, following a self-assessment tool kit prepared by the inter-parliamentary Union in 2008. As a prospective politician, I was keen to understand and assess the way the Indian parliament functions. I believe that this research couldn’t be carried out anywhere but at the Parliament. For my research, I had to interview 100 members of Parliament, which is not possible for any university scholar. Some politicians even spoke to me at length and gave me a good amount of time. These included veterans such as Somnath Chatterjee, Oscar Fernandes and many others.

The process of working on this project was enriching and exciting and I enjoyed every bit of it. But it was shocking to find that many MPs were not even aware of their rights. To cite an example, some were not even aware of their right to exercise the ‘calling attention motion’ in which a minister has the responsibility of responding to an MP’s query there and then. It’s unfortunate that due to ignorance, they keep waiting for 15-20 days to get the questions heard in the house.

The internship has given me a firm grounding for my political career. I will return and join a political party and work in my constituency for the time being. I will work part-time to sustain myself. Besides, having been used to surviving on Rs 18,000; I don’t aspire to work only to earn big bucks.

Choosing this internship doesn’t mean that I’m doing anything extraordinary by abandoning a fat pay package. I am simply following the stock exchange phenomenon that says that one should invest during the time of slump since businesses usually improve in the future. If you apply this to politics, I'm investing my time for the betterment of not only my future but also that of India.

First Published: Apr 06, 2010 11:44 IST