Independence Day message from Prof Haragopal

Happy Independence Day from the Lokniti Editorial Board!

On India’s 71st Independence Day, Lokniti Editor, Trisrota Dutta, speaks with Prof G Haragopal about his thoughts on the true meaning of freedom, the importance of history and what kind of perspectives and politics can help achieve social transformation. He also shares a special message for all his students past and present about the role they can play in bringing about greater freedom for all Indians.

Prof Haragopal is a Visiting Faculty member for the MPP programme and teaches both the Political Economy of India and Public Administration courses.

The Paradox of Rationality: Administrative theories and the rise of the ‘Popular Demagogue’


Foreign policy begins at home, and yet no nation can independently manage the challenges it brings in its wake. Climate change, political instability, financial volatility, terrorist activity, food security and religious conflicts are challenges that do not limit themselves to national borders. These challenges call for international cooperation. However, since 2016, a game changing year in which political developments in the United States of America redefined the global political and economic landscape, there has been a rise in geopolitical rivalry, populism and protectionism all of which are complicating multilateral policy coordination.

The United States is a charter member of the United Nations and one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In addition, it has been, and will continue to be one of the world’s largest economies by its sheer size. The power of the United States as a hegemon however has reduced in the recent past. Apart from the rising power of the BRICS nations damaging the super power status of the country, the biggest threat to America lies within itself. On the 9th of November, 2016 the world witnessed businessman turned television personality turned politician Donald John Trump elected to office as the 45th President of the United States. Globally, citizens were swept over, displaying disheartenment, fear, apathy, anger and plethora of other emotions attempting to draw a sense of understanding and meaning of what a ‘new’ America meant to the world. A narcissistic billionaire with grandiose plans and a disagreeable demeanour, in the time period spanning the first hundred days to six months of his presidency, Trump has taken stances that have left not only the international community but also denizens more disenchanted and disillusioned than ever before. With the discussed global developments as a backdrop, the administrative theories of Herbert Simon and Max Weber can be used to analyse the rationality governing organisational politics and the use of authority and power as a decision-making tool in the global political landscape.

Herbert Simon’s perspective

Here the behavioural approach to organisational theory provides an insight into the interplay of human behaviour in social systems. It is in this arena that Herbert Simon lay emphasis on the idea of administration as a core function of decision-making. He was instrumental in separating factual scientific judgements from ethical or value judgements in viewing administrative action. In understanding the several layers that the state of political administration is in today, the spirit of true democracy has been slowly losing its sheen to the populism wave. Thus it has left a void in the understanding of the role of political leadership in administration. Has power and authority subverted the framework and structure of an organisation to become a one-man show of critical decision making that is neither factual nor moral? While it is becoming increasingly evident from instances witnessed, a close look at models that explain the spectrum of rationality or even so to say encompassing irrationality. Simon propounded a theory of bounded rationality that has its roots in economic decision making. However, Simon preferred to call it as a combination of to satisfy and to suffice, making it ‘satisficing’. According to him, it was important to set the boundary of rationality before setting any administrative ‘principle’. However, contrary to economic theory, he believed that human capacity is restricted and it is not possible for an individual to derive maximum benefit from a course of action as its scope to even understand could be far-reaching. Therefore, bound by ‘cognitive limits’, decisions are so made.  Simon, rejecting the theory of total rationality, examines the spectrum of rationality along the boundaries from the standpoint of an administrative man. An administrative man, not in a position to perceive the exhaustive set of alternatives or solutions resorts to ‘muddling through’ policy framing, as described by Charles Lindblom. However, with respect to ‘good enough’ decision and solutions, the possibility of the area being subjective and grey is higher. If political decisions have an impact on a global level, is there legitimacy in the bounded reasoning by an authority?

Incidentally, ‘Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, the “economic nationalist” wants to sharply curtail immigration, erect trade barriers, reduce U.S. commitments overseas and destroy what he calls the “administrative state”. (Robinson 2017) Their inward looking, populist and nationalist agenda is now being touted as “Trumpism” and includes moves such as attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, imposing travel bans on immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations, increasing defence spending and aggressively promoting protectionist trade policies. Far from making America “great again”, this “Trumpism” coupled with the rise of BRIC nations, climate change, nuclear proliferation and terrorism is slowly but surely eroding the very foundation of the power of the United States. Following Bernard’s ‘zone of indifference’, Simon establishes the concept of the ‘zone of acceptance’ when authority lies within this realm. As a new presidential elect, it could be said that Trump may be basking in the glory of the ‘zone of acceptance’ and it may not be long before the zone shrinks in size. Given, the support from the electorate that he has garnered, as Simon puts it, ‘organisational loyalty’ may be a key driver for the support in the short run but may fail to manifest in the longer run with the zone of acceptance blurring out.

However, as Simon’s critics reinstate that Trump and his compatriots are not merely guided by factual economic judgements, but also use the sentiments of the masses for propaganda and mobilisation. Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, remarked on Trump’s victory saying, “people like me – and probably like most readers of the New York Times – truly didn’t understand the country we live in” (Mishra 2016). This is true, even in the national context of India. The 2014 elections that brought Narendra Modi, a man with the history of the Godhra riots, to power still managed to strike an emotional connect with the masses garnering some sort of faith and support in power of authority.

At this juncture, it is also interesting to draw on the Weberian theory of the foundational structure of authority where traditional authority, charismatic authority and legal rational authority form the tenets of the theoretical base governing bureaucracy. Global politics, however, in recent times has been turbulent, a flight from the liberal rational democratic setup. Trump as well as Modi signal a wave of ‘charismatic’ leadership and authority in the society. Weber’s philosophy explains this phenomenon.

‘There is the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is ‘charismatic’ domination, as exercised by the prophet or — in the field of politics — by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader. …Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him. If he is more than a narrow and vain upstart of the moment, the leader lives for his cause and ‘strives for his work.’ The devotion of his disciples, his followers, his personal party friends is oriented to his person and to its qualities. Charismatic leadership has emerged in all places and in all historical epochs. …Political leadership in the form of the free ‘demagogue’ who grew from the soil of the city state is of greater concern to us…’ (Weber 1919)

Trump is a gifted demagogue, appealing to the prejudices and desires, mirroring the sentiments of the section of the population rather than using rational judgement. Weber describes the historical transition of authority from charisma to tradition to bureaucratic authority. What we witness today with Trump is bureaucratic with underlying shards of charismatic authority that makes many questions the legitimacy of this authority. So is the case with Modi. How can the rationale of Modi being the face and voice behind demonetisation be justified, instigating the debate as to why the Reserve Bank of India did not announce the policy.

Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and the third President of the United States of America, opined that an informed electorate is the cornerstone to democracy. An informed electorate is based on the assumption of relevant information that is backed by facts. The voters are then in a position to weigh the available knowledge to arrive at a reasoned decision, which may not be the gold-standard but is the best available in the given scenario. This relates closely to what Simon called bounded rationality. The onset of Trump however, did not identify with the said assumptions. Instead, it was illusionary and situated itself on the turf of emotion. The use of the rule of thumb and heuristic reasoning in not only the rise of Trump but even critical issues of immigrant labour, healthcare policy et al approached through this channel lays a doomsday ahead for America and the global economy.

Cooperation to Self-Interest?

In this regard, the Paris Agreement of 2015 becomes a stark example. The Paris accord sets out a global action plan and collaborated effort to mitigate climate change. It is a signal from countries to their citizens and industries to collaborate towards low-carbon and greenhouse emissions. It is strange to note the decision of the United States to withdraw from the treaty at a time when the world is in the irreversible transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy. Given this, the time was apt for the US to strengthen their economy for the potential gain of the green economic sector. As Rohit Prasad writes for Livemint, “It is possible the US could miss out on some of the $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the global low-carbon economy represents. More importantly, it could lose its position as the leader of the liberal world order. The decision to make a visible and very public break reflects Trump’s proclivity to adopt sharp policy positions, his preference for hard military power over soft power, and his desire to compensate for the botched exit from Obamacare.” (Prasad 2017) This action viewed closely from the basis of rational decision making has several ramifications. The withdrawal by US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases is a severe international fallout. This is explained by game theorists as the collapse of organised coalitions and the rise of ‘self-interest’ driven players which serves no long-term benefit to the big elephant in the room, the insurmountable effects of climate change (Prasad 2017). The dichotomy is organisational theory behind decisions driven by self-interest and through cooperation and its failure in maximising efficiency is clearly visible. However, well-aware of the effect of the US exit, China, India, France, and other countries committed to the cause have reinstated their cooperation in the Paris Agreement. The means-end construct, that is, rationality in choosing appropriate means to achieve the ultimate purpose that Simon speaks of in organisational theory is largely amiss in the present case.


To conclude the ideas presented in this article, organisational desires and decisions are complex given the myriad issues that we face today. The wave of ‘irrationalism’ rooted in the economic suffering and dislocation of values has inhibited the power of reasoning in understanding the manipulative capacity of authority and power. With the growing concerns of citizenry and the need for international cooperation, expectations of rational motivation and plausible outcomes in both national and global politics remain a question to carefully ponder.

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at


Mishra, Pankaj. 2016. “Welcome to the age of anger.” The Guardian . 8 December

Prasad, Rohit. 2017. Donald Trump’s Paris Agreement pullout: Masterstroke, death knell, or farce? 15 June.

Robinson, Eugene. 2017. “We don’t know where Trump stands. Neither does he.” The Washington Post. New York , 13 April.

2017. “The tale of America’s hollow climate change leadership.” LiveMint, 7 June.

Weber, Max. 1919. “Politics as a Vocation.”

Lecture on Social Policy by Professor Robert Walker

Public Policy Occasional Lecture Series on Social Policy by Professor Robert Walker


Robert Walker, a Professor Emeritus and Emeritus Fellow of Green Templeton College visited the National Law School India University for a special guest lecture on ‘Research Methodologies and Social Policy’. He shared his experiences carrying out scientific research for governmental and private bodies.

Professor Walker has worked with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) in the past, and has contributed to the field of Social Policy since April 2006. He also formerly taught at the University of Nottingham. In addition, he has served extensively as a Research Affiliate at the National Poverty Centre, University of Michigan and also as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was a Member of the statutory UK Social Security Advisory Committee for 10 years until 2012 and chaired the Academic Advisory Committee during the design and launch of the ESRC UK Household Longitudinal Study. He is currently a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the evaluation of Universal Credit. His career is an inspiration to many researchers and students to conduct high quality research for informing the political process and improving policy. He undertakes research relevant to the development of welfare policies in Britain and other countries, and engages in dialogue with policymakers who support research to bring about positive change. His particular research interests include poverty, social exclusion, children’s aspirations and employment instability.

In his lecture at NLSIU, he began by saying, “Do not believe all that I say,” ushering the urge in students to be curious, question things and accept ideas after rigorous research. He talked about the controversial Brexit policy, the use of cash transfers within the anti-poverty policy domain, and the differences in research methods between the Global North and Global South over the past decade. He shared insights on the new strategy to anti-poverty efforts in the Global South, which reflect a contemporary neo-liberal agenda and have seen success in Latin America. A comparative, qualitative study led by Prof. Walker moved across five settings – two in the Global North (Norway, the UK) and three in the South (China, India, and South Korea). Prof. Walker went on to share some real-life obstacles and probable solutions to qualitative and quantitative research problems.

While talking about a range of interesting and efficiency-related aspects of a welfare state, it was also discussed how the nature of an organization which initiates the research matters a lot. The session however, was rightly aimed at showcasing how a ‘productive’ or ‘efficient’ research is to be carried out and what tools are available to a researcher. (A productive research is the one which carries adequate evidences and supports the analysis, on which a policy can be devised or a law can be enacted.)

He cited examples from his research paper, which reflected targeted policy analysis and interviewed recipients in the settings under investigation. Specific focus is placed on the potential for measures to shame or heighten the dignity of recipients. He wanted to convey how claimants who are already vulnerable may undermine the efficacy of the measure offered.

The discussion revolved around topics from incentivizing research participation to dealing with bureaucracy in a government initiated public policy research. One of the MPP students also went on to ask, “Should a researcher keep his emotions, first hand-experiences at bay or can he use his policy approach paper to give a certain direction for the desired policy.” A debate emerged as it is seen that most of the time a policy paper or research survey does not result in the construction of a policy as recommended. In the end, a researcher has a limited say in the making of a policy which can have a significant impact on public welfare.

(Soumya Gupta is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University and is in the 2017-2019 batch. She can be reached at


Interactive Session with Ms. Amrutha Jose Pampackal


Ms. Amrutha Jose Pampackal from the first batch of Master’s Programme in Public Policy (MPP) had an interactive session with the participants of MPP on July 12th, 2017. Amrutha (in the centre of the group photo) is currently working with IFPRI based in Delhi and she can be reached at

Ms. Pampackal graduated in B.A. (Honours) English from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi before joining the MPP course at National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru. Being part of the first batch of MPP, she had a very unique perspective to share. She is currently working in the capacity of Research Assistant in Poverty Health Division at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Her current research work involves studying the trends of stunting, malnutrition, over-nutrition among children in Karnataka in comparison with national-level statistics. This involves research that collects quantitative information from governmental and non-governmental sources, analyzes and simplifies these numbers for a wider audience including politicians and bureaucrats.

She also discussed about her Master’s dissertation work on ‘Role of bureaucratic behavior in determining policy outcomes – A study of tribal resettlement and development mission (TRDM), Kerala’. As part of her dissertation study, she did extensive field work in the tribal region of Wayanad of Kerala. She recalled the difficulties she had in getting access to basic information on local schemes and welfare data from bureaucrats, and how only she could get the necessary data for her research only after following endless procedures for days at length. She adds that it was this experience in Kerala that influenced her decision to take up social sciences research.

She plans to do her PhD in Social Policy from the United States in near future, and briefed us about the process involved in finding the suitable university for research domains one wants to research in. She also cautioned against doing PhD without giving a proper thought on whether one is deeply and truly interested in research. Lastly, she mentioned about some important peer-reviewed journals like Economic and Political Weekly which one should continuously follow for recent developments. In addition to that, she also highlighted the importance of reading a newspaper every day to stay up-to-date. The session ended on a lighter note and a group photograph.

The students of MPP at National Law School of India University wish her good luck for her future endeavours, and look forward to many more opportunities of interaction with her.

(Nakul Sharma is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University and is in the 2017-2019 batch. He can be reached at

Public Policy Blog, NLSIU, Bangalore