“Five years is good to put skin in the game”

Ought candidates from the private sector be inducted into the government as “lateral hires” is under intense scrutiny. How do we examine the issue? Charles Assisi asks Ashok Pal Singh, CEO of India Post Technology Centre

Charles Assisi

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.


Virtuoso features conversations with a cross-section of veteran entrepreneurs, business strategists and thought leaders from India and abroad

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About the author

Charles Assisi
Charles Assisi

Co-founder and Director

Founding Fuel

Charles Assisi is an award-winning journalist with two decades of experience to back him. He is co-founder and director at Founding Fuel, and co-author of the book The Aadhaar Effect. He is a columnist for Hindustan Times, one of India's most influential English newspaper. He is vocal in his views on journalism and what shape it ought to take in India. He speaks on the theme at various forums and is often invited by various organizations to teach their teams how to write.

In his last assignment, he wore two hats: That of Managing Editor at Forbes India and Editor at ForbesLife India. As part of the leadership team, his mandate was to create a distinctive business title in a market many thought was saturated. When Forbes India was finally launched after much brainstorming and thinking through, it broke through the ranks and got to be recognized as the most influential business magazine in the country. He did much the same thing with ForbesLife India where he broke from convention and launched the title to critical acclaim.

Before that, he was National Technology Editor and National Business Editor at the Times of India, during the great newspaper wars of 2005. He was part of the team that ensured Times of India maintained top dog status in Mumbai on the face of assaults by DNA and Hindustan Times.

His first big gig came in his late twenties when German media house Vogel Burda marked its India debut with CHIP a wildly popular technology magazine. He was appointed Editor and given a free run to create what he wanted. During this stint, he worked and interacted with all of Vogel Burda's various newsrooms across Europe and Asia.

Charles holds a Masters in Economics from Mumbai Universtity and an MBA in Finance. Along the way he earned the Madhu Valluri Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Polestar Award for Excellence in Business Journalism.

In his spare time, he reads voraciously across the board, but is biased towards psychology and the social sciences. He dabbles in various things that catch his fancy at various points. But as fancies go, many evaporate as often as they fall on him.

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