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Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

Think Tanked!!!

Indian think tanks are completely irrelevant...

Across the world, it’s not for nothing that think tanks are called the 'Idea Industry'. Almost everywhere (albeit exceptions) thinks tank are considered idea generators and are given adequate considerations in policymaking. As with time, the complexity of policy and political issues are widening, countries are leaving no stone unturned in advantageously drawing upon the repository of intellect, knowledge and competencies to successfully tackle the pertinent issues and attain a decisive competitive edge. Realising the same, even the present President of the US, Barack Obama chose the key members for his transition team from the think tanks spread across the US. In fact the existence of think tanks is just not confined to developed and western nations only. There are around 5,500 think tanks worldwide with 1800 in the US itself, which is more than double of all think tanks combined in whole of the Asia! United Kingdom has 283 think tanks while Germany has 186, France 165, Japan 105 and India has around 121 think tanks!!!

The need for these types of guilds is primarily to address the challenge of specialisation, which most of the contemporary Governments face across the world. think tanks specialise upon specific domains on a continuous basis, which any policymaker (both politicians and bureaucrats) cannot, on account of paucity of time and interest. For anyone associated with Indian policymaking or for that matter, Indian bureaucracy, might find it extremely challenging to address diverse issues like economic slowdown, terrorism or say a moon mission, all at the same time. Moreover, for a country like India, where demographics change every 50 kilometres, policymaking becomes too complex a task to be handed over to a group of ministers, who as such are bereft of any adequate track record. This is where the role of think tanks gets defined. No doubt, there are several think tanks in India, and few of them are sponsored by the Government too, but then their role in policy making is too very limited. Unfortunately, unlike in developed nations, most of these think tanks do not pro-actively promote their ideas, and above all have an ageing workforce. Except for few think tanks like IDSA, ICRIER or CCS, none have the capability of filling the talent vacuum. Indian, since long, is in crying need of young and talented political leaders but then such leadership can’t be bred in an environment where there is an intellectual vacuum. If these think tanks are provided with an opportunity to participate in policy research, it would not just help in better policy making but also help in grooming of future and wanna-be political leaders. That’s just one side of it. The other side of it is - as of now most of the think tanks are Government funded and are completely devoid dynamic thought leaders. Thus it is by design that most of these Government-funded think tanks rarely come out with radical ideas as they need to safeguard their funding sources. The matter worsens, when one looks at the kind of white papers and research that they finally churn out. It is not the quality but the irrelevance of such researches which is a matter of bigger concern.

All in all, the Americans call their think tanks ‘Government in making’ while in India, we treat them as institutions meant for marginal activity like doing researches just for the heck of it. It does not require much argument to prove that think tanks can serve as ‘knowledge black books’ for our economy, provided it is managed with an intent of nation building.


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