The Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on Indian strategic affairs and policy, is spelt with an extra three letters. This makes it truer to the Gandharan-era (600 BC) pronunciation of its namesake—an ancient institute of learning. Nitin Pai, the institution’s founder, attributes the “s-h-a” to precision and nuance, both important attributes for an organization whose raison d’etre is public policy.
Takshashila started off with Pai’s blog, The Acorn (www.acorn. nationalinterest.in), in 2003. Employed with the Singaporean government, Pai had started blogging on public affairs because, as he puts it, working in the government was a lesson on the limitations and failures of governance.
Graduation: Takshila’s archaeological ruins. Wikimedia Commons
When a critical mass of “high quality” thinkers started associating around his blog, he set up a blog platform called Indian National Interest in 2005. A monthly digital publication on strategic affairs, public policy and governance called Pragati came next. Pai had by then quit his job to attend Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy for a better theoretical grounding.
Pai founded the Takshashila Institution in 2009 as a non-partisan, non-profit public charitable trust. To preserve its independence, it only works on donations from Indian nationals and Indian grant-making trusts. There has been no corporate funding so far, although seed funding came from Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of the public charitable foundation Arghyam.
Over the last two years, Takshashila has conducted several round-table conclaves to channelize its commentary. Closed-door executive sessions have been held in elite institutions such as the College of Defence Management in Secunderabad. But these have been limited to a small group of participants and Pai was keen to reach a wider base.
Takshashila’s inaugural “Shala” event in Pune on 29 May will do just that. It is an innovative format that will blend scheduled presentations with spontaneous, even extempore, talks from participants on the lines of the “BarCamp”, an international network of “unconferences”. Participants will announce topics they wish to speak on in the morning, attendees will choose what they wish to attend, and speakers who generate enough interest will be given a chance to make a 20-minute speech.
The latest Pragati.
In scheduled sessions, Takshashila fellows—Pai himself is a fellow of geopolitics—will share their research. Speakers will include government officials such as Navdeep Suri, joint secretary, public diplomacy, ministry of external affairs; and topics such as “India as a swing power” (Pai) and “B.R. Ambedkar as a champion of free markets” (B. Chandrasekaran, Hayekorder.blogspot.com).
Though this new initiative, the “Shala”, again alludes to learning (in borrowing from the Sanskrit word for “school”), the event isn’t strictly pedagogic, but rather an informal one. Pai hopes to spread Takshashila’s lofty missions through the event, which is an “aim to establish itself as one of the most credible voices in India’s public policy discourse, known for its unambiguous pursuit of the national interest, through consistent high-quality policy advisories.”
The inaugural Takshashila Shala will be held from 9am-5.30pm at the NCL Innovation Park, Dr Homi Bhabha Road, Pune. Entry is free and open but attendees have to pre-register on www.takshashila.org.in/events/shala
(Mint’s executive editor Niranjan Rajadhyaksha is a trustee at the Takshashila Institution.)