There had been so much talk about privatisation.
More than half of the public sector companies were soon going to be up for sale for private bidders. The other half were creating projects that had private participation. They called them as PPP projects. Short for public-private-participation.
Those for the privatization had argued about how privatization will bring efficiency. They had argued how the private companies can raise resources that the government cannot. They had argued how the private companies can attract talent that the government cannot. They had argued how the private companies can have flexibility that the government cannot.
Those against the privatization argued that these companies had assets that were being sold for a song. They had argued that the privatization was crony capitalism. They had argued that the privatization would cause a loss of jobs.
There was, however, no talk about the purpose of government. Why do we need a government? What can and must it do that no one else can?
The paper on her table sat neatly on top of her writing pad. The fountain pen, the one he had gifted her on her birthday, sat on top of the paper. Her cursive writing in blue ink on the off-white paper was not easy to hide itself in the surrounding books. It had an immediate allure. She had written neatly:
The purpose of government is to protect public interest.
Public interest is that which is of interest to everyone, not specific to a few. It is something that does not take away anything from anyone by giving to someone. It is that which protects the interdependent relationships in society. It is something that creates a basis for the symbiotic relationships between people. It is something that ensures exploitative relationships cannot sustain.
Protecting dignity is public interest. It cannot be otherwise.
It is of interest to everyone, not just a specific few. For who would like to be treated without dignity? It does not take away anyone’s dignity by giving it to another. In fact, it enhances your dignity by giving it to another. It is what protects our interdependent relationships in society. It is something that creates the basis for symbiotic relationships between us. It ensures that exploitative relationships will not sustain. For you cannot exploit someone whose dignity you uphold.
Protecting justice is public interest. It is that which restores the balance of dignity between parties that may have been dealt with an unfair hand. It does not deny justice to any parties involved when the balance of dignity is restored. For how can there be justice if the dignity of any party is trampled? Justice is what recognizes the interdependent nature of our interactions for them to be fair. For independence would provide no motivation to be just – there would be no skin-in-the-game. It is what must be protected if symbiosis must take root. It is that which must exist if exploitative systems must not take root.
Public interest is not a business. It has no revenue streams. Public interest is not economics. It has no demand and supply curves. It is a moral imperative. It is the conscience of the public. It is that on which all public policy must be created. It is the path of leading conscience to action.
Unlike all other institutions in the world, there is no institution, other than the government, that is made up of the entire public of the land. There is no question, therefore, that its purpose can be other than to serve the entire public. Its purpose, therefore, can only be to protect public interest.
A government that does otherwise can, then, serve no public interest.
He had seen her eyes shine whenever she talked about the purpose of government. He had watched her courage to stand up and explain the purpose of government to the government. He loved every bit of her idealism and had seen it fill rooms fill with energy, hope and joy every time she explained it to even those who had made a career in pushing private interests as public policy.
He read it again. Every one of her words had been carefully chosen. Her sentences carefully crafted. He smiled at her in admiration.
He knew there was no way he could defend his government. None of their policies would qualify as public policies in her definition. After all the development agenda of his government was always for a chosen few. It took away from many and gave to a select few. It did not understand interdependence. Rather it sold the idea of independence. It usually laid the foundation for exploitation of some participants.
His government’s defense of its economic policy was no different. After all they focused on GDP growth. GDP did not grow because public interest was furthered. It grew because activity happened. It had no way to protect the public from exploitation.
He could not find reasons why his government should pursue all the things that private interests could do. He could not find the reasons why his government should not pursue the purpose of protecting public interests.
He recognized that the only reason why the government did differently was that the government had become independent of the public. It had no skin-in-the-game to pursue public policy. They did not have the same reward and punishment as would be experienced by those excluded or impacted by the policies his government called public policies. No wonder that they continued to sell private policies as public policy.
He picked up a paper from her desk and wrote:
Declaration by Government Officials Creating Public Policy
This policy affects all public and not a smaller group of private interests.
This policy ensures that all members of the government creating this policy will bear the same rewards and same punishments as all members of the public.
This policy is that which is of interest to everyone, not specific to a few. It does not take away anything from anyone by giving to a few. It protects interdependent relationships within the public. It creates a basis for symbiotic relationships. It ensures that under this policy, exploitative relationships cannot sustain.
He had finally taken the first step to ensuring the purpose of his government would be to protect public interest. He knew that this was only a first step, but it was a beginning that he would learn from.
By inspiring this step, she had brought meaning into his life. She had helped him to commit himself to a purpose beyond his own life. He looked at her in admiration and gratitude.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph