Missing in Action: Why You Should Care About Public Policy (Penguin, 23 January 2023)
An Amazon.in Best Seller #1 in Public Policy
What’s it About?
If you like what’s in this newsletter, you will surely like our first book, Missing in Action. At the heart of this book is our belief in the core objective of public policy. It should increase the welfare of the citizens. Like the verse from Bhagavad Gita goes:
अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जनाः पर्युपासते।
तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम्।।9.22।।
That word - Yogakshema - to preserve the prosperity and welfare of citizens is what public policy should be about.
We write this newsletter with the hope that it will, in its small way, move the needle on discourse. The book is a logical extension of this hope. Hope, as Andy Dufresne taught us, ‘is a good thing; maybe the best of things’.
We are hopeful about the future of India, but not in a misguided nationalistic way. We believe we can make an impact, however small, on the demand side of the policy equation. That making people aware of policy choices and helping them anticipate the unintended will lead to a change in the supply side of politics. There are two preconditions for this to happen, which we assume hold true. One, people have time and mental space available for discussions that matter to their lives. Two, a belief we can arrive at what’s good for us through those debates and discussions.
In the book, we have taken the citizens as the point of reference and elaborated on their interactions with the state, market and society. Think of the book as a primer to understanding the fundamentals that underpin these interactions. We cover why we need a state or the markets, what is the role of society and how the three interplay among them. We go back to the foundational texts on political philosophy and economy in the book to explain the core concepts of public policy but in what we hope is an accessible fashion. We have tried to avoid jargon and approached all topics using first principles. Like the 16th-century Bhakti poet Nabha Dasa, who compiled the life of every saint from time immemorial in Bhaktamala, wrote:
"Jaat na puchhie saadhu ki, poochh leejie gyan,
mol karo kirpan ka, padi rahne do mian"
("Do not ask for the antecedents of a learned saint. Only seek their wisdom. The true worth is what’s within us and not what you see from outside.")
We have been ecumenical in our approach in this book.
The other thing you might find interesting in the book is our focus on finding examples in the Indian context to illuminate a point or to make a case for our arguments. This will contextualise a lot of the discussions in the book to our immediate environment, and we hope it will make our reasoning clearer to our readers. Further, we have tried to keep ourselves free of dogma in the book. We have strong faith in markets, but we understand their limitations and the critical role of the state and society. We have been open to knowledge from all sources and have challenged our premises and priors before stating our point of view. Lastly, the tone of the book is conversational, and it is filled with some of our usual groan-inducing Bollywood references.
— Pranay & RSJ
There have been many books about Indian society, but none so far about the Indian state. Missing in Action fills that gap, and how! Kotasthane and Jaitley are two of our finest thinkers, and their writing combines a surgeon's precision with a poet's art of revealing the unseen. They paint both the big picture and the small details. This book is a masterpiece that will be essential reading 50 years from now. If you want to understand India, you should read Missing in Action.
— Amit Varma, Creator of The Seen and the Unseen Podcast and The India Uncut Blog
Missing in Action is a thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and educational book. The book helps readers understand why the Indian State is the way it is-powerful yet ineffective, well-intentioned yet weak, and ambitious yet underperforming. A must-read for everyone!
— Rohini Nilekani, Philanthropist, Author of Samaaj Sarkaar Bazaar: a citizen-first approach
The policy outcomes are the result of the three important forces: society, market and the Government. This wonderful book by Pranay Kotasthane and Raghu S. Jaitley beautifully tells you why and how this happens. Their pedagogical strategy is deceptively simple but very effective. The book has many real-life examples of both policy triumphs and disasters in our country and the authors lucidly explain the how and why. I would urge you to read this remarkably perceptive book that is analytically rich while making the learning ride very enjoyable.
— Vijay Kelkar, Chairman, Thirteenth Finance Commission and former Finance Secretary, Government of India
The Seen and the Unseen by Amit Varma, episode 313.
Grand Tamasha by Milan Vaishnav.
Ideas of India by Shruti Rajagopalan.
ThePrint #SoftCover launch
A conversation with Vinay Kumar Singh at the Vidarbha Literature Festival 2023.
Fahad Hasin’s review in the Hindustan Times:
Missing in Action equips the reader with simple but powerful frameworks to evaluate any policy and complements Ajay Shah and Vijay Kelkar’s In Service of the Republic. In sum, it attempts to empower Indian citizens against partisan propaganda and encourages informed public debates.
Ashish Kulkarni, in his blog EconForEverybody:
Some books are entertaining, and some books are erudite. Rarely do we get to read a book that is both.
Prakhar Singh, on LinkedIn:
The manner in which this book is written is inclusive, and it will appeal to the audience across the spectrum: from a lay person with no prior background in the subject to professionals who make a living from policy design and implementation. This book has something tangible to offer to everybody.
Ashish Kulkarni deployed MiA as a textbook to introduce public policy to 13-14 year-olds:
It’s truly special, this cohort. They are young enough to not have their curiousity trampled upon by higher education, and old enough to be able to grasp ideas and concepts fairly quickly. Better still, they are old enough to draw parallels between what they’re learning and what they already know. And best of all, they do not hesitate to ask basic questions that adults would be embarrassed to ask.
“Wait, that makes no sense”, was a sentence I heard very often while teaching these students, and I reveled in how it was said without shame, worry or pretense. It simply was what it was: an admission that what had been heard did not make any sense, with an implicit demand to explain further.
And so for teaching these students, a musty old textbook full of diagrams, definitions and pompous declarations would make no sense. It would have to be a book that was rigorous in terms of its understanding, thorough in terms of its explanations, and light in terms of its treatment. And as I’ve explained in my review, this book does a very good job on all counts.
One reason it does so is because the book is very clear about what it is not. As they say in their introduction to the book, the authors are clear that this is not an academic work, not is it a work of journalism.
The book has, instead, stories. And in order to make sense of these stories, the authors make liberal (if you’ll forgive the pun) use of public policy frameworks. We learn about public policy, in other words, by looking at the world and by wondering why it seems to make no sense. In each chapter, the authors ride unfailingly to the rescue, armed only with their obviously wide reading and their deep expertise in public policy. One of my students made the observation that their “secret superpower” was sarcasm, and I wholeheartedly agree.