Not one Indian think tank figures in
the Global 50 annual list for 2012 released by the University of
Pennsylvania end-January. China beats India in this area as well
and so do, in some specific cases, think tanks from such countries
as Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Egypt and Argentina.
The best India has managed is the Centre for Civil Society (CCS)
at Number 51.
The US occupies five of the top 10 slots, with Brookings, Carnegie
Endowment, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Council
on Foreign Relations and Rand Corporation.
But for those who want India to shine and value the contributions
made by think tanks in shaping a country's future, the carps
aren't limited to the fact that only those in the US or even the
UK, with Chatham House, Amnesty and International Institute for
Strategic Studies, make it to the top 10.
China, despite its innate disadvantages in the English language,
sits with two such institutions in the global 50 -- the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences is at Number 17 and the Chinese
Institute for Social Sciences is at Number 38 and many more in the
Beyond China, at Number 24 is Brazil's Fundacao Getulio Vargas and
at Number 39 is Argentina's Consejo Argentino par alas Relaciones
Internacionales, while Egypt's Al-Ahram Centre for Political and
Strategic Studies at Number 50, who all show India the mirror.
Even Kenya, Indonesia and Chile have institutions that figure
higher than our second-highest ranked institution.
Our bunching in the global 150 begins in the bottom 33 percentile.
After Centre for Civil Society, the Institute of Defence Studies
and Analysis (IDSA) sits at Number 105, the Indian Council for
Research on International Economics Relations at Number 109, The
Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) at Number 110, the Observer
Research Institute (ORF) at Number 115 and Development
Alternatives at Number 141.
That said, India is Number 4 by way of total numbers. Out of 6,603
contacted by U-Penn across 182 countries, India can boast of 269
think tanks. Only the US (1,823), China (429) and the UK (288)
have more feedstock. Also, the general trend appeared bullish
given that the relative rankings of Indian institutions has
improved compared to 2011.
U-Penn offers the same listings sans US think tanks. They also
divide the institutions by the region, and in domains such as
science, economics, health and the environment. They even slice
Asia into an amusing construct. In one such list only India,
China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are ranked. Naturally,
Indian think tanks rank higher when any of this is done. But so do
a whole lot of them from China.
In the curtailed Asia (India, China, Japan, RoK) list, for
example, ORF shows up at Number 10, IDSA (11), Centre for Policy
Research (12), CCS (15), Delhi Policy Group (22), the Institute of
Peace and Conflict Studies (24), TERI (25), the Centre for the
Study of Science Technology and Policy (28), National Council for
Applied Economic Research (29), Centre for Study of Developing
Societies (33), Institute of Economic Growth (40), United Service
Institution (42) and Liberty Institute (43).
Beyond research output, it is funding and resultant influence
among policymakers that drives these rankings. Here, the role of
the Indian government (and the country's university system)
remains the weak link. Not one Indian entry makes it to an
interesting list showing the world's 40 best university-affiliated
There's a similar blank India has drawn in the list of the world's
30 best party-affiliated think tanks. Among government-affiliated
think tanks, there's only IDSA at Number 16. A silver lining,
perhaps, is the role two corporate notables -- Reliance and in an
earlier hue the Tatas - who seed-funded ORF and TERI,
respectively. Both think tanks have found government funding for
their programmes. Is that the future?
India's poor show continues in lists of 40 think tanks which best
use the internet and social media. Here the irony is, an Ethiopian
and a Costa Rican think tank, respectively, make it, but none from
The Economist magazine gives away a hint on how India can do
better. So, here it goes: A good think tank is one that is able to
combine intellectual depth, political influence, and flair for
publicity, comfortable surroundings, and a streak of eccentricity!
For the report, log on to http://www.gotothinktank.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2012-Global-Go-To-Think-Tank-Report.pdf.
Robin Bansal is chief executive and co-founder of the India
Strategy Group of Hammurabi and Solomon Consulting and a visiting
fellow at ORF. Tweets @therohitbansal)