We interview a politician or someone working to help quality politicians do their job for each edition of our weekly briefing. Hemakshi is Co-founder of the Indian School of Democracy, which we featured in our list of 28 political leadership incubators to watch. She holds a Master's in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School as a World Bank Graduate Scholar and is an Echoing Green 2022 Fellow.
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How would you describe your political path?
I started wanting to become a politician myself. Through the Indian School of Democracy, my journey has evolved to creating a platform and space that nurtures principled political leaders, especially from disadvantaged communities. I feel a very real need to see more women in politics and to foster decision-makers who look like everyday Indians, are in touch with realities on the ground and can represent all Indians.
My political path converges seamlessly with my spiritual path. I serve in a way in which my head, heart and hands are aligned.
What are the most useful lessons you've learnt along the way?
Inclusion is a choice. Sometimes it’s a very tough choice, but it’s always worth it. Ensuring that Indian School of Democracy’s programs were made up of 50% women and an equitable representation of religions, classes and geographies has not been easy, but the effort has been worthwhile.
Policy and politics are very different ball games! Many avenues exist to create policy wonks, teach stats, policy analysis, numbers etc., but what we truly need are ethical politicians who have the moral courage and imagination to redefine public leadership and politics. This work requires us to nurture skilled and moral people and a support system that helps politicians serve all citizens.
"We want politicians who lead with a still mind, a compassionate heart and fearless hands."
What are the top three things that could be done to get trusted, ethical and courageous politicians in your area?
Start and scout early. Make politics cool and desirable for people in their formative years instead of allowing them to think of politics as dirty and inaccessible.
Build a community where emerging leaders can practice values and ethics. This would create a community of practice, where values and service are celebrated and where politicians have peer role models to learn from across party lines.
Tell emerging leaders’ stories and celebrate small and consistent wins. This motivates people who are truly living their values in politics and others who are seeking to be principled politicians.
What ideas and/or people are inspiring you at the moment?
I am rediscovering Vinoba Bhave. He was a renowned social reformer and considered the spiritual heir of Mahatma Gandhi. He recognized that, while India became free from British rule in 1947, a lot of work needed to be done to ensure the economic, social and spiritual freedom of Indians. He chose to do this by walking all over India and leading the land-gift movement. He recognized that if we want to challenge the caste structure of India, it had to be done by changing the hearts of people rather than just through law. Because of him, people willingly gave up their land in hopes of a more equal and peaceful society.
Reading him is kindling in me the audacity to imagine politics of/with love and collective healing.
What story do you want communities to tell about politicians?
We summarize this in the Indian School of Democracy’s manifesto! We want politicians who lead with a still mind, a compassionate heart and fearless hands. I want to hear and tell stories of politicians who break free from shackles of left and right to create tolerance for multiple truths. I want politicians who hear the silenced, stand with the weak and serve the unserved with humility. I want politicians who fight polarity with interconnectedness, inequity with justice, and violence with love. I want to hear stories of women, indigenous people, disadvantaged groups who chose to become politicians, and through their actions, reclaim politics as public service.
Do you know of an inspiring person we should interview in the future? Send us your suggestions via email or on by following us on social media.