After cancelling a fund for the prestigious Delhi-based Institute for Chinese Studies (ICS), the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has reportedly informed another research group on China that it will not be able to support their programmes.
“We will overcome the challenges posed by the fund cut, but such an attitude towards conducting comprehensive academic research on China would hurt the foreign policy debates on China in India,” said Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor B.R. Deepak, who has been one of the scholars of the Association of Asia Scholars (AAS).
In the past few weeks, the MEA has come under criticism for its decision to revise many of the grants and funds it disburses to think tanks. While the ministry declined to comment on the criticism, a senior MEA official told The Hindu that the cuts were not the outcome of larger budget cuts from the government, but had been taken on the basis of “the performance and delivery” of think tanks that have been allocated a combined ₹6.5 crore in the Budget.
“Over the past few years, we have been trying to inject some accountability into the system, in an effort to get more results from the think tanks,” the official explained, defending the government’s decision.
‘Project by project’
While the ICS had seen an annual fund outlay of ₹1 crore cancelled and replaced with funding on a “project by project” basis, sources said the AAS was told its seminars and programmes could not be funded as they were too “academic in nature, and not helpful in the government’s policy design”.
Speaking out against the government’s decision on the ICS, which was started in 1969 and is one of the most respected think tanks in the field, outgoing director Alka Acharya told The Hindu : “Project-based funding is efficient in that it focuses on specific outcomes or outputs. However, that alone cannot substitute the sustained core support required to nurture the high-quality human-resources necessary — not only to pursue those projects but to build the range and depth of knowledge and expertise about China that India needs today.”
Fellows of the ICS as well as the AAS did not wish to speak about whether their fund cut came because of what one official called “diametrically opposite positions to the government” on important issues like China’s Belt & Road initiative as well as on border talks.
A senior China scholar, however, said such differences are a sign of academic dynamism and creativity. “Funding from the government does not make a think tank into an advocacy group. Our difference of opinion is based on the study of a particular project and therefore there is no question of agreeing on all issues with the MEA,” he said.
Responding to other criticism on the government’s decision to support programmes organised by foreign think tanks, including a Global Technology Summit conducted by the India arm of the Carnegie think tank in Bangalore, the MEA official said recent entrants to India like Carnegie, Brookings Institution etc., are no longer considered foreign.
“These are hardly foreign think tanks any more, as they are staffed mostly by Indians,” the official said, acknowledging that the decisions mark a shift from previous MEA policy and were part of a “revamp” of the policy planning division that now handles all think tank funding.