India needs to attract the brightest to public life

India needs to attract the brightest to public life

New Delhi: Anew generation of parliamentarians is emerging in India, with 79 out of 543 members in the Lower House under the age of 40.

In the face of increasing private sector salaries and attractive career prospects, India must attract, train and retain bright young minds to foster the next generation of responsible public leaders.

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How this could be achieved formed one of the discussions on the second day of the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in Delhi on Monday.

The representatives speaking at the panel were divided over whether the public sector had the correct, or any, incentive system in place for pulling in talent, or whether it was enough to assume that power had its own reward.

The stage was set with the announcement of the results of a global survey conducted by the World Economic Forum on young leadership which established that the biggest deterrents for a young person entering politics was the “widespread corruption", the public scrutiny that politicians underwent as the price for taking up power, and the bureaucracy.

Mongolian member of parliament Oyun Sanjaasuren, who was on the panel of speakers, drew laughs when she joked that politicians shared the status of being the least trusted people in the world, along with journalists and Australian car salesmen.

She said she took a pay cut on joining politics from a mining company, and her earnings fell almost 10 times. She knew that salary was not one of the inducements to joining politics but what made the situation worse was that most governments “assumed" youngsters were “dying to join them in power", adding this thinking was flawed and that a suitable headhunting mechanism ought to be put in place to pull in the best talent.

The leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, lamented a culture that had emerged since 1991. “The problem is not Parliament. Post-independence we have strengthened Parliament—the problem is how political parties have evolved. We need to improve inner-party democracies that have been diluted, while caste and dynasty have taken the place of meritocracy."

He said all parties had been furthering “social caste appeal" and that this seemed to work well with voters.

Jitesh Gadhia, senior managing director at private equity fund Blackstone Group Lp, disagreed with Jaitley, saying, “You get what you pay for, be they public officials or not. There’s controversy over what politicos are paid all over the world, whether it’s the US or the UK. They are making a choice. Besides, if there are asymmetries of power, it can be dealt with by regulators." He said if the public sector needed talent, they need to pay enough. “Politicians must be paid market rates," he said.

The panel also debated whether the private sector could take the responsibility, given that it attracted the “brightest and the best", of lending its workers to policymaking. Gadhia said he admired how in the UK, the private sector seconded its employees to the (now defunct) UK regulator, the Financial Services Authority, saying he approved the practice. “There should be a revolving door between the public and private sectors," he said.

There was general agreement that the private sector was more transparent and accountable than the government and Gadhia voted for the private sector chipping in to help the public sector engender positive attitudes and systems for accountability, and that, while he could not say how this could be achieved, he said that he knew why it would help. “All empirical evidence shows that as countries get richer, they do not necessarily improve governance but in fact, good governance stimulates private sector investment."