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The Rise of New-Generation Foreign Policy Think Tanks in India: Causes, Contours and Roles

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Part of the Global Political Transitions book series (GLPOTR)


Over the past few years, India has seen the rise of newer foreign policy think tanks. Traditionally marginalised, the foreign policy think-tank sector has gained in visibility and vibrancy due to new demand in the wake of India’s expanding international stakes. Foreign policy think tanks, several of them created in the 2000s, are more active and visible in the public sphere than their predecessors. The new think tanks’ greater visibility reflects a more intensive engagement with the government. However, the growth of foreign policy think tanks has been mostly constrained to two distinct types: on the one hand there are those which are close to Indian businesses and/or connected to foreign think tanks. They tend to promote a liberal world view. On the other hand, there are those which are close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in terms of ideology and personnel. They contribute to mainstreaming nationalist ideology in foreign policy and are dependent on their close links to the current government for their influence.


  • India
  • Foreign policy
  • Think tanks
  • Business
  • Hindu nationalism

An earlier version of this chapter was published as a briefing paper of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (Khan & Köllner, 2018). Raphaëlle Khan would like to thank Mélissa Levaillant for their discussions on foreign policy think tanks in India.

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  1. 1.

    For instance, in McGann’s 2019 report the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) was ranked 15th among top non-US think tanks, while the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) was ranked 37th (McGann 2020, pp. 59–60). In the same report, in the worldwide ranking of think tanks, Brookings India was first among the Indian think tanks (placed at 23rd) before ORF (27th) and IDSA (41st) (ibid., pp. 66–67)—indicating both the visibility of these think tanks and the problems with this ranking exercise.

  2. 2.

    We exclude here Indian think thanks that work only indirectly on foreign policy issues, such as those focusing on economic affairs (such as the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations or the Research and Information System for Developing Countries) and on the environment (such as the Centre for Science and Environment or the Energy and Resources Institute).

  3. 3.

    See Köllner (2011, pp. 5–6) and the literature cited therein.

  4. 4.

    The following two paragraphs draw on Köllner et al. (2018, pp. 6, 22–23).

  5. 5.

    For details, see Goyal and Srinivasan (2013), Celestine (2012).

  6. 6.

    Considering for instance the major role that the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) played in the organisation of the Asian Relations Conference of 1947, India’s Government’s relations with some think tanks were arguably strong when Nehru was prime minister. The close relationship with the ICWA partly reflected the government’s desire to promote the development of scholarship on international affairs in India. M. S. Rajan, the Administrative Secretary of the ICWA in 1948, set up the Indian School of International Studies in 1955 on Nehru’s suggestion (Vivekanandan 2010, 103).

  7. 7.

    For a short historical background on think tanks in India, see Ravichander (2018).

  8. 8.

    The journalist Prashant Jha (2015), who noted the rise of the think tanks with close party affiliations, provides additional details about IF and VIF.

  9. 9.

    In contrast to ‘hard neo-Hindutva’ groups which do not conceal their connections to Hindu nationalism. On the concept of ‘neo-Hindutva’, see Anderson (2015).

  10. 10.

    This table does not provide an exhaustive list of India’s think tanks addressing foreign affairs or security issues, but rather identifies the most prominent ones today and the most representative ones for our study.

  11. 11.

    The exchange rate of ₹1 = €0.012 as of April 2020 has been used to convert Indian rupees into Euros.

  12. 12.

    The institute is a partner of the libertarian Atlas Network which promotes free-market policies across the globe.

  13. 13.

    Interview by one of the authors with Dhruva Jaishankar, April 2020, via email.

  14. 14.

    Other notable large annual events supported by the MEA and organised in partnership with think tanks are the Indian Ocean Conference (with the India Foundation), the Global Technology Summit (with Carnegie India), the India–US Forum (with the Ananta Centre) and the West Asia Conference (with IDSA).

  15. 15.

    Other Hindu nationalist think tanks are specialised in training, such as the older Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini (RMP), run by BJP Vice President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. RMP provides training to politicians, their staff, government officials, and more generally RSS and BJP workers (Mohan 2015).

  16. 16.

    CPR, from an older generation of think tanks, strengthened its expertise in international affairs through recognised experts, including historian Srinath Raghavan (a former senior fellow), foreign affairs analyst Zorawar Daulet Singh, Professor Rani Mullen (senior visiting fellow) and Professor Brahma Chellaney.

  17. 17.

    See also the chapter by Ian Hall in this volume.

  18. 18.

    On the issue of conflict of interests in the case of the India Foundation, see Chaturvedi (2017).

  19. 19.

    According to the official FCRA website, 20,673 organisations are on the Registration Cancelled List. See

  20. 20.

    In 2019, the Union minister of state for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, told the Lok Sabha that the government had in the precedent five years deregistered more than 14,800 NGOs. Around 4,800 licences were cancelled in 2017 alone (Bhagwati et al., 2019; Business Standard 2019).

  21. 21.

    It came after a leaked Intelligence Bureau report accused ‘foreign-funded’ NGOs in 2014 of ‘serving as tools for foreign policy interests of western governments’ (The Times of India, 2014). Two years later, a senior home ministry officer argued that ‘NGOs that are not serving larger national interest or indulg[e] in subversive activities should not be allowed foreign founding’ (Jain 2016; see also Doshi 2016).

  22. 22.

    See the chapter by Ian Hall in this volume.

  23. 23.

    For the cases of the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library and the Jawaharlal Nehru University see Sharma (2019).


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Khan, R., Köllner, P. (2022). The Rise of New-Generation Foreign Policy Think Tanks in India: Causes, Contours and Roles. In: Patman, R.G., Köllner, P., Kiglics, B. (eds) From Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific. Global Political Transitions. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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