Brookings comes to India..

Like most international rankings, India’s think-tanks rank dont’ really rank high in Thinktank ratings.

In the top 150 thinktanks worldwide, highest ranked Indian thinktank is Centre for Civil Society. There are a total of 6 thinktanks in a list of 150. For the sake of comparison, CHin’s highest ranked think tank (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) comes at 17 in the list. China also has 6 thinktanks in the top 150 list. So India’s thinktanks doing ok in terms of number of thinktanks in the list (if China is the barometer for comparison as is always the case).

Brookings tops the list and perhaps rightly so. Though on econ matters I prefer Peterson institute and in Europe it has to be Bruegel. Brookings however covers many areas and is not limited to economics alone.

Now Brookings recently announced it is setting an office in Delhi:

The Brookings Institution announced today that it is openingBrookings India—a centre for public policy research based in New Delhi. Brookings is making this move because of India’s growing importance on the world stage as the world’s largest democracy and a rising power with one of the fastest growing economies.  

Brookings India will serve as a platform for cutting-edge, policy-relevant research and analysis on the opportunities and challenges facing India and the world.  Indians will play the primary role in directing, staffing and funding the centre. The research priorities of Brookings India—including domestic and global economics, foreign policy, energy policy and infrastructure policy—will be aligned with India’s policy agenda. Brookings India will seek to collaborate with existing Indian think tanks across the country. Its work will be based on the Brookings motto of “Quality, Independence, Impact,” promoting in India its brand of independent, in-depth research and engagement in the policy debate.

BS has a nice edit piece on Brooking entry:

One of the United States’ largest and best-known think tanks, the Brookings Institution – which has often been called the world’s most influential – has decided to open an India branch, which will be led by the former India head of the Shell Group of Companies, Vikram S Mehta. The left-leaning, Washington, DC-based Brookings is only the latest, but possibly the most weighty, entrant into an increasingly crowded space: the foreign think tank searching for a place in New Delhi. Last month, for example, an index on the economic freedom of states was released by Indicus in collaboration with Cato, a right-wing libertarian think tank, also based in Washington. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has offices in Washington, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Brussels and Shanghai, has wanted to open a Delhi office for some time, and has already started to raise funds for it. The Aspen Institute opened an Indian wing some time ago.

Is this a worrying development, or a welcome one?

It is a mixed bag. India provides opportunities but funds could be difficult to come:

On the one hand, it is clear that India’s think-tank infrastructure is underdeveloped. Good ideas aren’t being incubated within the government, but there are precious few of them outside it, either. The comprehensive failure of the university system to produce outstanding, independent work that is relevant to policy making is mirrored by the failure of most research institutions to create policy studies that influence decision making. In contrast, the efforts of non-governmental organisations that practise less academics and more advocacy are far more effective in influencing government policy. Other Indian organisations that work in the policy space are compromised, largely, by their dependence on government money. This limits their ability to offer alternative viewpoints, and means that they often are staffed by time-servers of moderate ability who are well connected with the government.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that foreign think tanks imagine India as terra nullius within which they can expand freely. It will be an unequal competition in terms of funds; the DC-based organisations have deep pockets. Nor can their indigenous competitors try to make up the difference by expecting local wallets to open for them — Indian entrepreneurs are stingy with their donations. Even universities receive little in return from alumni who profit vastly from their education but don’t think they should give anything back. And even those Indians who are willing to give money away would rather, it seems, give it to American institutions that have a reputation for independence and excellence rather than to Indian institutions with a history of avoiding both. Mukesh Ambani gave a fortune to Brookings some time ago; Ratan Tata and Anand Mahindra have donated to Harvard.

Being closer to Delhi could be a problem. Brookings should maintain its independent views and not get influenced by Delhi politics:

 In the end, given the aridity of India’s public policy sphere and the paucity of independent thinking about policy, any addition to it should be welcomed. Concern about foreign priorities should not be overstressed — the greater danger is closeness to the establishment in New Delhi. And hope should attach to the crop of newer, assertive and independent policy research bodies being incubated in India that are capable of challenging and informing government policy — organisations such as the Centre for Civil Society, PRS Legislative or Accountability Initiative. These light-footed, focused, nimble contenders might outdo the behemoths of the New Delhi and Washington, DC policy circuit.

Well, overall Brookings is highly welcome. I am not much impressed by the research written by think-tanks in India. So, hope Brookings shakes up the competition a bit and all those econs in these think-tanks get their own dose of competitive and creative destruction spirit…

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