Harsh Bajpai completed his undergrad degree in law in India, his Master's in the US, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the UK. Talk about going places! But that's not what compelled us to speak with him. Harsh's experience is so varied that we wouldn't be out of line to call it adventurous even. From being a LAMP Fellow under Derek O Brian's guidance to working in the ECOSOC to now working around 'facial recognition,' if anything, Harsh's experience shows us that there are so many work areas research to be explored for a lawyer.
In an interview with us, Harsh gives us details about his experience so far, emphasizing the LAMP fellowship.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am Harsh Bajpai; I am from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. I completed my Bachelor's from Symbiosis Law School Noida, one of the best law colleges in India and immediately after that, I did my Master's at George Washington University. I was working there as a short-term consultant in ECOSOC (Economic and Social Security Council).
When I was in the US, I saw that many US nationals interned under judges or did fellowships under Congress members. I was fascinated by this. That was when I became aware of the LAMP (Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament) fellowship. I applied for it, got accepted, and joined the same. I got the fellowship under Derek O Brian. I returned to India after my Master's to pursue this one-year-long fellowship.
After this, I worked as a Policy Officer at the Center for Internet and Society New Delhi, one of the top research centres in New Delhi for nine months. I got my first permanent job at the Dialogue as a Program Manager, where I worked around Internet Governance and Cybersecurity. In 2019, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. from Durham Law School, owing to my previous workaround technology law.
My Ph.D. offers to work around biometric technologies, including facial recognition and emotional AI, specifically in the Indian education sector. I am evaluating the meaning of 'Panopticon,' a concept developed by Michael Foucault, one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period in the Indian education context.
2. How was your law school experience in Washington? How was it different from your experience in India?
In India, law school was a pleasant experience. I just happened to choose law because of my parents' advice since I did not want to pursue engineering or medicine. Law happened by chance for me, but I did have a lot of interest in Social Sciences at my school level.
The transition from India to the US was very different, to be honest. I wouldn't say India was terrible, or Washington was very good, but it was really very different. I wasn't planning to do LL.M immediately after my Bachelor's, but I got a scholarship, and things just followed. The offer was tempting, considering the college and the city I would get to live in. I did my Master's in International Law, technology law being my optional subject.
In the world’s best western countries, especially in America, they follow a 'Socratic' method of teaching. The Socratic method is where there are limits on the number of students who can sit in the class. Also, there were specific seats in every class where one could sit, and one wasn't allowed to
change his/her seats for an entire semester.
I had to go entirely prepared for the classes, which was not easy for me initially. In India, we are not usually told what we would study the next day, but this is not the US case. For example, if there are three classes the next day, you are expected to read 70 pages for each of the classes, meaning about 210 pages the night before. Although it seemed tedious initially, I now realize how much this has helped me. I am now habituated to reading, which is amazing for the profession that I am in.
Some people who had been part of wars or were a part of the UN were studying with me or were a part of the teaching faculty, which was indeed a very enlightening experience!
3. Could you please tell us a bit about your LAMP fellowship experience and the procedure to apply for the same?
LAMP stands for 'Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament.' It is a fellowship that offers youth a chance to expose themselves to law-making and public policy. LAMP fellows are mentored by a Member of Parliament (MP). They are expected to work full-time under the assigned MP from the Monsoon Session of the Parliament until the Budget session.
The application process begins in January. E.g., for the 2021 intake, applications end on 17th January 2021. The applicant has to fill out a form detailing:
1) Demographic Information
2) Educational Information,
3) Work Experience (includes internships) &
4) Essay 1 - Why do you want to Join LAMP Fellowship,
5) Essay 2 - On any legal or policy-related issue.
It is the first round of application in which applicants are selected for the interview round. During the interview process, applicants are generally expected to have detailed knowledge of his/her state's politics and general knowledge of Indian politics/Parliament. In furtherance of that, if you have a sound understanding of what you have written in Essay 1 and 2, better are your chances of selection.
It is a highly competitive process in which importance is given to representation in terms of gender and the course stream from which you have graduated. An engineering graduate has an equal chance of getting selected as a philosophy or a law graduate. This fellowship is open for Indian candidates below 25 years of age and have a Bachelor's degree in any discipline.
4. What was your day like as a LAMP fellow?
I was lucky enough to be part of the team under Derek O Brien. Initially, I was allotted another Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP - Nadimul Haque. Since Derek Sir is the Vice-President of TMC, I used to work from his office and report daily to both the MPs.
If the Parliament is in session, the Fellow has to reach the MP's residence early for the morning briefing as sometimes your MP might be scheduled to speak that day or a vital Bill might be raised in that session. I personally promised myself that I would improve my knowledge of Economics (as I am a graduate of law), so I used to reach the office at 7 am and read newspapers (you might get served some tea and breakfast in the MP's residence too). By 9-9:30 am, other staff members start coming in. These staff members would assign us tasks on behalf of the MP. We must keep ourselves updated every morning with news (especially from Lok/Rajya Sabha TV).
We have our morning briefing with the MP and then get on with watching the Parliament's proceedings, in person or from the MP's residence. The rest of the day is spent framing debates, zero-hour questions, research on policy discussions, etc. Training in these matters is provided to a fellow before joining the fellowship.
After the Parliament proceedings, if the next day is expected to be hectic, an evening briefing takes place, and you might be piled with work just as you are about to leave! But then, there are only 3-4 Parliamentary sessions in a year, and this is what you joined the fellowship for!
If the Parliament is not in session, the days are much more relaxed. It gives you time to learn the law, economics, or whatever you are interested in as one or the other thing will help you later. E.g., economics helped me understand the budget session in greater depth. We also prepare questions for question hour for the next session, as we are expected to submit them before the session starts. There are certain visits to constituencies planned by PRS Legislative Research, a fellowship programme run by PRS Legislative Research. I went to Baramati, Sharad Pawar's constituency, and is now his daughter Supriya Sule's.
However, if an applicant wants to only work under specific top shot MPs, they should not apply for the fellowship, as there are several State MPs both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha who are doing great work. PRS Legislative Research (Founder of LAMP Fellowship) selects an MP cohort based on their attendance, number of debates taken part in, number of questions asked, etc.; so, all the MPs are equally amazing to work with.
5. What's your intake from this fellowship?
In the 26 years of my life, this is the most important and most beneficial experience I have had!
Apart from just giving you an award of fellowship, it teaches you various things:
Hard-work: I know it is a cliché term, but to work day in and day out and to see your debate pointers/questions, etc., being asked in the Parliament, is very rewarding.
Awareness: I never read so many newspapers, never watched Rajya Sabha or Lok Sabha TV, or listened to parliamentary sessions. Just the wealth of information I aggregated through this experience was tremendous. Knowing how our democracy works or even getting closer to understanding how it works, whether the pitfalls or the high points, has helped me understand the society we live in better.
Connections: From meeting such a fantastic cohort of fellows sharing food during training to learning politics, to the constituency visits, and finally to networking with PRS, MPs, and their staff, this has indeed been an enriching experience!