B S Raghavan

Poor record of India’s think-tanks

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on October 07, 2012

Iread with mixed emotions the recent announcement by The Hindu of its intention to launch The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy to encourage research and discussion on critical political and public policy issues. One of its major goals is stated to be “to look at the governing vision over the last several decades since Independence and to revisit the fundamental formulations of the Indian Constitution, be it on pluralism, federalism, linguistic states, or regional autonomy and to see whether parts of this governing vision need to be updated to address the intense challenges facing the country today.”

I welcome the initiative, but with some caveats.

The name of The Hindu as a newspaper no doubt is world famous, but as part of the name of the Centre, it is liable to create an impression of being denominational. I would have wished its being named after K. Srinivasan or G. Kasturi. While honouring the legendary figures who brought The Hindu to where it is today, it would have also removed all scope for misunderstanding among those who “read while they run”.

Secondly, the canvass is too ambitious and sweeping. It is best that the Centre does not spread itself too thin over too wide a range of issues, but has its charter focusing on some specifically demarcated domains of immediate and concrete relevance to the contemporary state of the Union.


Finally, I would have wished the Advisory Board and the Board of Management to include at least a few who have made a name for themselves for their achievements in areas the Centre proposes to study and for their hands-on experience in addressing micro- and macro-issues pertaining to governance, public policy, politics and economy. Also, they should be practised in looking at Indian problems through Indian eyes within the setting of the Indian ethos, reflecting India’s concerns and complexities.

Most of all, the Centre will need to exercise constant vigil against a common failing of Indian think-tanks and generally of Indian academics: Cluttering the writings with undecipherable jargon and make them totally unintelligible to those who make policies and mould opinions.

Whenever it produces a paper, it should recall the face of the average Indian citizen and apply the test whether the language, diction and style will enhance his understanding of the issue. For, without engaging the average Indian citizens in the nation’s decision-making process, no nation-building effort will succeed. Mere erudition and proficiency in English will not do. The Indian landscape, alas, is littered with any number of substandard but pretentious enterprises calling themselves think-tanks. Just look at the state of affairs as of 2011.


With its share of 292 think-tanks among the 5,329 such institutions round the globe, India has the distinction of holding the third position after the US (1,815) and China (425). But as per the latest evaluation conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, (the results of which are available in http://www.gotothinktank.com), not a single Indian think-tank has been named among the top 30, and only one (Centre for Civil Society) figures in the top 50 with the rank of 34. Even Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia and Singapore have made it to top 50 with one think-tank each.

The picture is only slightly better if one goes by the rankings among the top 30 think-tanks of Asia: It includes five Indian think-tanks with the Centre for Policy Research occupying the fourth place, followed by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (15th), the Energy Research Institute (17th), the Centre for Civil Society (18th) and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (24th). The top three positions in the Asian list go to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Japan Institute of International Affairs and the Indonesian Centre for Strategic and International Studies in that order.

Of the 30 best university-affiliated think-tanks world-wide, not one is from India. The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses ranks 20 among the 30 best government-affiliated think-tanks, with the US Congressional Research Service securing the first place and four Chinese think-tanks ranked 12, 17, 18 and 21.

In most categories, as is to be expected, the American think-tanks dominate.

My best wishes for the new Centre.

Published on October 07, 2012

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