I have been fascinated by the government for as long as I can remember. Across the two decades of my life, this childish fascination has continued to persist, a facet of my personality that I have come to regard as an irrational obsession. It manifests itself in a number of ways, one of which is an excessive attachment with New Delhi, the home of both the government and I.
The most charitable explanation I can find for this — indeed, one that paints me in more patriotic a light than I would prefer — is a belief that the government will be the driver of any sustainable development that is to be brought to this country. A belief that “changing the country” is a misplaced ambition. What needs transformation is the government: its mindset, its machinery, and its machinations.
After weeks of calling, emailing and all sorts of complaining : good-natured optimism comes through 🎉
The street lights I had been trying to get fixed on a dark stretch that I use every day to walk back home from the metro station get fixed. pic.twitter.com/Q4J88yUrx5
— Bharat Kashyap (@bharattttttt) July 19, 2018
What tools will enable this transformation? Any answers to this question will inherently be subjective; in my admittedly little experience, I have found no better solution to overcoming the inertia of moving stagnant systems than technology. It has, thus, become my personal ambition to stand at this intersection of technology and development; to see how modern advances in computing can be applied to change the archaic ways the government works.
It is in this context that my interest in SocialCops must be gauged when I first came across it, on Twitter, more than a year and a half ago. “DISHA” was still in a nascent stage, but the idea instantly caught my eye: monitoring the execution of 42 central schemes — executed by various different ministries — via data sourced from the district level, turned real-time through cutting-edge workflow automation tools. Here was an organisation that was taking advances in technology and putting them to use in effecting better governance, all out of a South Delhi office. In their work, I could see my own mission statement perfectly reflected. Despite having no tangible link to the organisation, the project, or the people working on it, I felt immediately affiliated with their work.
I followed SocialCops and their work closely for months. I kept myself updated about the implementation status of DISHA and felt a part of all its victories, including feeling decidedly proud at its launch by the Prime Minister in October.
Thus, when I was asked four months ago on SocialCops’ internship application form to list three things that excited me about working for them, answering was a breeze. I decided to convey how working here would be the convergence of everything I was fundamentally passionate about: technology, development and New Delhi.
To be honest, I had no expectations when I had applied, nor any delusions of grandeur when I made it. Before my first day, I would have considered making it through the two months that were to follow — without breaking anything major — a considerable achievement. Getting to meet the people who worked on DISHA would have been an overwhelming bonus.
Reality, as in most cases, turned out to be vastly different from my hypothesis. On day two, I was being briefed about the project by DISHA’s project lead; during my second week, I was a part of a meeting to finalise the re-creation of DISHA’s front-end interface; and my third and fourth weeks were spent building and shipping this revamped version to production servers controlled by the National Informatics Centre.
In one month, I had gone from following DISHA from afar to becoming one of the people who was working on it. I was merely an intern, and yet I was entrusted with rethinking the project structure, making important design decisions and, perhaps most rewardingly, developing features that fulfilled the government’s urgent requirements. What I was helping build would be used by each Member of Parliament, each District Magistrate, and even the Prime Minister. One month is too small a time period to get used to this idea: it felt surreal then, and it still feels surreal now.
A whole host of remarkable events have transpired in these two months. Writing on the eve of the last day of my two-month stint here, I can only list so many: spending an entire week virtually living in the office to be able to meet our deadlines; witnessing the ringing of the office gong, a valued tradition, on the completion of our first successful deployment; attending a government event commemorating the second anniversary of the DISHA project as a part of the team behind it; and finally, sitting in on an apex-level review meeting at the Ministry of Rural Development (the driving force behind DISHA). This was the first formal meeting I have ever attended, in an office building that I have admired countless times from the outside. It was the realisation of exactly what had excited me about working at this organisation: discussing technology, with the Ministry of Rural Development, in New Delhi. I have a suspicion that very few interns, or indeed employees, are ever able to say that about their work.
Entire years of my life have taught me a fraction of what I was able to grasp in these eight weeks.
They have provided, amongst other things, validation that governmental mechanisms are not immutable; inspiration from a set of people I have been most fortunate to be able to learn from every day; camaraderie, with lunchtime laughter over cramped-up cafeteria tables; and perhaps most importantly, direction, in my ability to chart my own course ahead, one that will hopefully converge at sometime in the future with that of the company.