Decision-making processes in India: quality inputs essential

02 Mar 2000

The Delhi scene is currently buzzing with activity in preparation for President Bill Clinton?s visit to India. Over the past few weeks, several teams of officials from the US have been doing the rounds of Delhi and other cities which were regarded as possible destinations for the Clinton visit, and the contours of the President?s itinerary are now fairly clear. Even though President Clinton would be completing his term of office in less than a year, the fact that a US President is visiting India after a gap of 22 years is a significant development. Undoubtedly, at the political level there have been hectic preparations for the discussions that would take place between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister as well as between senior officials from both sides, but it is not clear whether India has prepared adequately to define a common agenda in the fields of science and technology, climate change, environment, and energy. Any such agenda requires a clear definition of India?s own interests and the manner in which it could be served through partnerships with the US, consistent, of course, with US interests. Such an exercise necessarily involves considerable intellectual effort. There is nothing to show that such an effort has actually been made. Part of the problem lies in the fact that many of these subjects though inter-related are really handled by different ministries in the Government of India. This is where the presidential form of government has a clear advantage, because in the case of the US agenda, direction and coordination comes from the White House with intellectual inputs provided not only by agencies of the US administration but also by several think-tanks and scholars outside the system. Unfortunately, a country like India, which has a rich tradition of scholarship and respect for knowledge, has been hopelessly unable to institutionalize linkages with groups and individuals outside the government, and preparation for an event like the visit of the US President are carried out in a confined and insular setting. This raises questions about how a country of the size and potential of India should function in areas which require a clear articulation of strategy not only for domestic purposes but also for external relations such as in the present context. Perhaps, there is much to learn from the US example where the evolution of strong institutions of higher learning and the existence of a number of credible think-tanks are part of the policy-making process not by accident but through an exercise of deliberate choice. Perhaps, one item that should be discussed between the two teams should include the intellectual quality of decision-making which would be critical if India is to manage the challenges facing the country in the 21st century. The US experience has much to offer us by way of example in this direction, and this is one form of ?technology transfer? that would help greatly.
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