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Political internships can remake our politics

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 19, 2009 12:49 am

A recent chick-flick called Definitely,Maybe featuring recent grad Ryan Reynolds being drafted into Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign nailed something essential — the adrenaline,the commitment,the grunt work,the ambition,and the occasional disillusionments of political wonkery. It’s standard practice in the US,where there are established avenues for young people to work with and consult political parties. In the EU too,students can directly contribute through research organisations bankrolled by political parties. And now,going by the handful of IIM students pitching into the Congress,BJP and CPM machine,it looks like India’s headed that way too. In recent years,young professionals have been involved in various informal ways — some work on the online face of the campaign,some craft policy and others chip in with constituency spadework.

This kind of shift obviously refurbishes and updates the party’s image. Given that the usual career path within parties is long and arduous,this kind of infusion of new ideas can energise the parties’ intellectual culture. It not only offers bright young people a way into the system (otherwise stacked against fresh entrants),it also gives parties more policy heft,and backs up their political stands. It is hard not to mention Barack Obama in this context,whose stupendous success was greatly driven by young people. He captured the imagination of the so-called millennials,and indeed,relied on many of them to run a phenomenally efficient campaign,to organise,to write many of his speeches,to get across to this crucial demographic.

In India,too,if these young political interns are given a decent canvas,they could come up with inventive new ways to position and plug parties to those like them,besides contributing towards a professional,technologically with-it,and competent campaign. While this energy will be tremendously useful for elections,their skills and brains should also be tapped for governance,and it would be useful to formalise arrangements by which political parties can draw on the collective intelligence of an enthusiastic and talented student pool at our law,management and liberal arts schools. Rather than relying on loose personal networks,like the Gandhi family tends to,it would make sense to have an open process of induction. It should be structured with varying degrees of flexibility and involvement,so that young professionals can contribute and be included.

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