Sumit Ganguly

Indian Decade blogger Sumit Ganguly shares his thoughts on WikiLeaks, education in India and why there’s a dearth of talented political analysts there.

You’re usually based in Indiana but are currently a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. India’s growth is often described in quite breathless terms. What kind of changes have you seen on this trip compared with last time you were in India?

The changes are palpable and noticeable. There has been a dramatic growth in the number of exotic restaurants, fancy shops, boutiques and coffee bars. Traffic has also increased meteorically, contributing to frequent delays. Simultaneously, the sheer number of expensive cars is simply staggering.

Sadly, along with these developments, there hasn’t been a commensurate increase in civility and mores of courtesy and common decency. Instead, the lack of everyday courtesies is pronounced—there’s little concern for those who are less fortunate, and the treatment of domestic help borders on the appalling. Clearly, dramatic prosperity for some hasn’t meant any real improvement in the lives of a host of others.

You’ve written that you believe there’s a dearth of quality Indian analysts writing on India. What do you think could be holding India back from developing world class research institutions? What could be done to change that?

Sadly, the study of the social sciences, with the exception of economics, has long been neglected in India. Consequently, large numbers of academics who have come out of graduate programmes are poorly trained, rarely publish in rigorous, peer reviewed professional journals and, in turn, churn out anaemic students. Consequently, the vicious, downward spiral continues.

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Fortunately, the Indian central government isn’t strapped for cash. It can provide universities with more than adequate resources. The real task before it is therefore to attract and retain talent, nudge time servers to move on, and insist on higher standards of instruction and research. These are all tall orders. However, in the absence of such a commitment, India won’t be able to do much with its demographic dividend.

What do you find is the biggest differences between the academic environments in India and the United States?

We have our share of deadwood in the US. That said, we still have fairly stringent assessments of both teaching and research. Quality work is frequently rewarded and a highly competitive academic milieu keeps serious scholars on their toes. Sadly, for the most part, India desperately lacks a similar environment.

You were also based in Singapore earlier this year—what was that experience like, in academic terms?

The experience was quite enjoyable and productive. Singapore has superb physical infrastructure, no significant dearth of resources and increasingly an expanding stock of competent and able academics. Several of my colleagues at Nanyang Technological University as well as the National University of Singapore were thoughtful and dedicated individuals and it was a delight to be in their company

Just to touch on a recent issue that has made the news. I know you’ve been very critical of the WikiLeaks decision to release US State Department cables. How do you think this leak is likely to affect freedom of, and access to, information in the future?

It’s perhaps too early to spell out the full and likely impact of these leaks. In the short term, it may make many diplomats far more cautious about expressing their sentiments on controversial matters. Also, governments may tighten their communication networks further, compartmentalize the flow of information further and engage in greater self-policing.