A career bureaucrat, Ashok Pal Singh has worked with several departments in the Indian government, including at the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance.
What places Singh in a unique position to provide perspective on whether it makes sense to induct people from the private sector into government is that he was part of the founding team that worked on Project Aadhaar. This was the time when veterans from the government and from the private sector came together at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) with Nandan Nilekani at the helm.
It was one of those rare initiatives where people from the government and the private sector worked together to create Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric-based national identity system. That it is the subject of intense debate is another matter altogether.
One can look at that experiment through many lenses. What happens when people from the public and private sector come together? Conventional wisdom has it that it is difficult for them to work closely. Most evidence points to just that. Why ought somebody from the private sector give up all the trappings and perks to get into public office? And why should somebody who has spent a long part of their working lives in government, make way for somebody with no experience in the government?
When looked at from the outside, this isn’t easy territory to navigate.
Then there is the politics of it all. General Elections 2019 are around the corner. Is it possible that inducting a few “chosen ones” from the outside into the government at the level of a Joint Secretary, is one way to embed the bureaucracy with people that are needed at the right places?
To be fair to Singh, he did not flinch from taking these questions, answered all of it, offered a perspective on how ought “lateral hires” into the government be looked at, and why it matters. Because there is no denying that what India is staring at is one of the worst deficits in the world when it comes to the numbers of decision makers it needs to frame public policy.