Finding the right mix of academic scholars and administrative practitioners and making them work together would enable think tanks to play a significant role in addressing key contemporary issues and yet stay on course to meet its long-term goals, said Dr. Frederic Grare, Senior Associate and Director, South Asia Programme, of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Dr. Grare, who was visiting The Hindu Centre, said think tanks could contribute significantly towards bringing in much-needed clarity to perspectives on issues including in domestic and foreign policy matters. Centering his discussions on India’s ‘Look East Policy’, which has taken on a new significance now, though it has been in place for some time, Dr. Grare dwelt at some length on what it means to the country to engage with its South Asian neighbours on issues such as enhancing trade and investments in a globalising scenario.
Dr. Grare said that foreign policy is seen as an “expression of domestic need or interest”; the sudden importance of Myanmar in relationship with China, and India’s engagement with Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and Thailand for that matter, are but strands of that approach, he underscored. There was another dimension to foreign policy as an “expression of the state’s perception of its strategic autonomy”, wherein bilateral issues of India-Pakistan or India-China ties engage the diplomatic scene.
For the South Asian specialist from the Carnegie Endowment, both are equally important, as much as the “rise of China” and “willingness of the US to remain engaged with India” on these issues and consequently the larger role India could play in the region as a “Model State’’. In fact, for Dr. Grare, the ‘Look East Policy’ might have begun with trade concerns in the 1990s, but now embraced all these aspects. Hence, think tanks had a role in clarifying all these perspectives, though there was a view that it was difficult for them to take a long-term vision.
Responding to questions and comments from the participants, Dr. Grare said that though in the West a large number of officials from state administrations were moving to think tanks, this made the latter lose sight of their long-term goals. But think tanks, as they go along on their mission, must find out the apt mix between academic scholars and policy practitioners. “At the end of the day, we have to integrate, to make ourselves relevant,” he said.
Participants at the discussion included Mr. Mike Nithavrianakis, British Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai, Mr. Ajit Singh, Consul General, Republic of Singapore, Mr. A. Sabarullah Khan, Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Chennai, Ms. Kalpana Murthy, Political and Economic Officer, U.S. Consulate, Chennai, General V. R. Raghavan, President, Centre for Security Analysis, Dr. A. R. Venkatachalapathy and Dr. S. Subramanian, Professors from the Madras Institute of Development Studies, and Mr. Rudy Fernandez, Head (South India) Press and Public Affairs, British Deputy High Commission, Chennai.
Dr. Malini Parthasarathy, Director, The Hindu Centre, introduced Dr. Grare’s work and Mr. N. Ravi, member, Board of Management, moderated the discussion, while Mr. Arun Anant, CEO of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., and member, Board of Management, The Hindu Centre, proposed a vote of thanks.