India’s think tank: Time for introspection

A global survey has presented think tanks in India in poor light.

Ankita Chakrabarty / Zee Research Group

India has greeted with skepticism the results of a global think tank survey which presented think tanks here in poor light as none of them could make it to the list of top 30 global think tanks. But the survey has indeed set the think tank world here in the introspection mode.

The global think tank survey released by Diplomatic Courier and hosted on Foreign Policy on January 18 comprises a list of think tanks drawn from all over the world by the University of Pennsylvania. A total of 6,545 think tanks participated in the ranking while the rankings process, according to think tanks and Civil Society Program at University of Pennsylvania, relied on a shared definition of public policy research, analysis and engagement organizations, a detailed set of selection criteria and an increasingly open and transparent nomination and selection process.

India with 292 think tanks next only to US’s 1815 and China’s 425 failed to merit a place in the list of top thirty worldwide (Both US and Non –US) with organizations like Brookings Institution (USA), Chatham House (U.K.), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (USA), the Council on Foreign Relations (USA) and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) making up the top five in the list.

India’s best in the global survey came about in the top 30 think tanks in Asia with the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) making the grade at the fourth rank. In category wise survey classifications, India’s ‘The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)’ featured at 16 and 20th rank in the science and technology and environment category respectively.

India’s think tanks did not figure in the strategically security and international affairs category among others.

A visibly angry Air Vice marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), said, “This report has got a western bias since it is generated by an American University. It is quite obvious that it will feature the think tanks of USA rather than giving importance to the think tanks of other Asian countries.”

The strong view found an echo in another think tank which did not make the grade in the global survey. Mohan Guruswamy, Chairman and founder of Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), argued, “This report is controversial. In the Indian context, the bigger think tanks are managed and governed by people who are generally retired top civil servants. Their findings too are not really independent since these are essentially funded by the government. These kinds of surveys actually mislead the general public and the media.”

Kak at IDSA argued against comparing India with the US. “Washington D.C alone has 393 think tanks and India total has 292 think tanks. China has 425 think tanks. We should rather compare ourselves with rising economies and we can then say that India’s performance is not all that poor.”

India’s Centre for Policy Research (CPR), which figures at the fourth rank in the Asia list behind Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), and Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Indonesia, said the think tank “had the confidence to be counted among the best in the world.”

Asked, however, to explain the general poor show by India, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, CPR said, “Yes, it is true we need to scale up to meet bigger challenges. We need to get bigger and be more ambitious to achieve our true potential.”

He identified independence and funding as the two key issues that had a bearing on the ability of think tanks in the country to scale up. “India’s think tanks should seek funding from diversity of resources to ensure balance and most importantly the freedom to keep any biases out.”

Celebrating its success, Rajiv Chhibber, spokesperson, TERI said, “It’s a great achievement for our think tank. India as a developing nation has fared well and the situation could have been better if issues pertaining to economy, inflation and cross border terrorism could have been sorted out.”