Cambridge (Massachusetts), March 10: How to involve India’s massive middle class and its rich and hefty diaspora in India’s growth story? Where to find a place for thus far marginalised rural India in its growth narrative? How to drive systemic change in education and why is the Indian political scene so unattractive to its young people?
These were some of the questions that panellists grappled with on the first day of the India Conference, the largest student-run India-focussed conference in the US, organised by the students of Harvard University March 9-10.
Now in its tenth year, the conference with the theme of “India vs. India – Local Strength or Global Growth?” was attended on the first day by 22 speakers mingling with over 300 attendees representing voices from across the professional and ideological spectrum.
The theme refers to the decision to embrace India’s daunting complexity and seeming incoherence rather than over-simplifying the hackneyed “growth story”, according to the organisers.
Focusing on government and development issues Saturday at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, panellists alluded again and again to the reality of the many stories of India.
There was the economist’s story of India, the politician’s, the student’s, and, bit by bit, a more multilayered narrative Indian story than any of these, which could not be encapsulated in any one way.
The daunting nature of India’s complex problems and systemic and infrastructural challenges were described in great detail by each of the conference’s four keynotes Saturday.
Ashok Alexander, formerly country director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about the need to rise above the standard reaction of paralysis in the face of this complexity.
Arun Singh, deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy in Washington, mentioned the many colours of India and the difficulty they pose when viewed through the lens of US cooperation, but closed on a hopeful note, touching briefly on the portfolio of internationally cooperative research achieved nonetheless.
Ajay Maken, Indian minister of housing and urban poverty alleviation, talked about how India and its policy-makers took a decade to accept that urbanisation is inevitable, but today everybody understands that urbanisation is actually desirable.
Sam Pitroda, advisor to the prime minister on public information infrastructure, spoke about radicalising democracy through making information more radically available to a new generation of Indians.
Sunday’s events at the Harvard Business School campus in Boston, across the Charles river, promise to continue this dialogue.