Cambridge (Massachusetts): 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
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
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
Sunday's events at the Harvard Business School campus in Boston,
across the Charles river, promise to continue this dialogue.