Understanding India

What lessons does India offer for other countries? What is the appropriate role for outsiders in addressing continued poverty and widening inequality in a country that has regularly clocked about 7 percent annual per capita GDP growth with foreign reserves close to $300 billion? And what can the world reasonably expect such a nation, with ample financial resources but a huge poor population of its own, to contribute to solving global problems?

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India embodies many of the most perplexing contradictions of development. A rapidly growing economy with a booming, world-class information technology sector, and a functioning democracy for over 60 years, it also home to more desperately poor people than all the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

But India is also a crucible for arguably one of the most important development challenges. Increasingly, the problems of development around the world will involve improving the capacity of and strengthening the state in a democratic context. Corruption and weak governance are now endemic across the globe; at the same time, with a few exceptions, democracy is spreading. India offers a rich experience of how state capacity has evolved in an essentially democratic context.

What lessons does India offer for other countries? What is the appropriate role for outsiders in addressing continued poverty and widening inequality in a country that has regularly clocked about 7 percent annual per capita GDP growth with foreign reserves close to $300 billion? And what can the world reasonably expect such a nation, with ample financial resources but a huge poor population of its own, to contribute to solving global problems?

In the spirit of pragmatic experimentation, and taking advantage of the considerable in-house expertise on India (see below), CGD is making an initial investment in shedding light on some of these questions.
Our ambition, as in other major emerging markets where we are considering greater involvement, is not to offer policy advice to developing country policy makers on the decisions that affect poor people within their own borders. Rather, the aim would be to better understand their development challenges and the lessons they offer for others. Indeed, India is so large that it offers not one but a diversity of experiences which might make the Indian experience especially interesting for other developing countries.

Arvind Subramanian, a CGD senior fellow with a joint appointment at the Peterson Institute who has written extensively on India (including a book, India's Turn), and institutions, as well as a widely-acclaimed recent book on China, will take the intellectual lead as director of the CGD India initiative. He was nominated by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 global thinkers in 2011 and by India’s leading magazine, India Today as one of the 35 “Masters of the Mind” in India over the last 35 years.

Lant Pritchett, chair of the CGD Advisory Group, an expert on issues related to governance, state capacity, and implementation (and also a Foreign Policy top 100 global thinker in 2011) will be spending 2012-14 on leave from Harvard University in Chennai, India, and will be affiliated with CGD as an India-based senior fellow during that period.

CGD work on India will also draw upon the expertise of Devesh Kapur (whose recent book on India won the ENMISA Distinguished Book Award from the Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Section of the International Studies Association) , Pratap Mehta (director of the Center for Policy Research Delhi), and Ashoka Mody. All are CGD non-resident fellows and renowned experts on India and governance issues.

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