Think Tanks In India's Democracy India has the second largest number of think tanks in the world after the United States. This is not surprising given that both countries are democracies and encourage public debate. What do think tanks do or what should they do? Do we need them? Think tanks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and vary in terms of their roles and functions. A fairly standard view of think tanks is that they are autonomous institutions autonomous from their funding sources, public or private that are tasked to contribute to the making of public policy. In this view, think tanks are part of the structure of governance even though they have no official role. It is the dream of think tanks to influence if not shape public policy. The truth is that even in the US, where think tanks are abundant and where some are almost household words (RAND, the Brookings Institution), the relationship of these institutions to policy is difficult to trace in any very conclusive way. In India, think tanks constantly bemoan the fact that South Block does not take them seriously, that it does not share information with them and that it does not involve them in shaping policy. This is largely a futile complaint. Why so? For one thing, officials are not predisposed to cede ground to anyone outside their precincts. For another, they are allergic to admitting that they have been or can be influenced by anyone outside the corridors of power. The state is not just the monopoly of legitimate violence; it also aspires to being the monopoly of legitimate public policy ideas! More important, it is a mistake to regard think tanks as being exclusively or even primarily aimed at influencing policymaking in a direct sense. Think tanks, in a democratic and open society, like the media, have a dual responsibility: to inform and influence the government but also to inform and influence the public. In shaping the public understanding of social problems and government policy, think tanks are in a position to affect policy indirectly, that is, via public opinion which exerts itself on the government through its representatives, the electoral process and other forms of pressure on officialdom. This latter, democratic function is often forgotten by Indian think tanks which are obsessed with being "relevant" and influencing policy more directly. What can think tanks do? We can distinguish between at least six broad functions or roles. The first is to help create policy where there is none. A think tank may direct government and public attention to an emerging or a neglected area of social life which requires policy intervention. A second function is to fundamentally change the direction or nature of existing policy by means of a paradigm shift. It can do so by showing that the original conditions that brought forth a policy intervention have changed or that existing policy is ineffective. Third, think tanks can help modify existing policy for the same kinds of reasons changed conditions and lack of effectiveness. A fourth role is to monitor existing policy to see if it is implemented properly and to bring success and failure to the attention of the authorities and the public. Then, think tanks have an information role in respect of the larger public. They may simply disseminate to ordinary citizens, without critical commentary, what the government is doing in various areas of social policy and educate the man on the street the nature of various programmes. Finally, think tanks can incubate ideas for the future. This is a vital role, one that focuses not on immediate policy concerns but rather has a more distant horizon. It is also perhaps a more theoretical function in the sense that the think tank in this role is concerned with constructing a whole new vocabulary and set of conceptions about various areas of social life with perhaps no immediate relevance or application. As a progressive and democratic society, India must invest in more and better think tanks. The public good requires the enlargement of expertise and debate. Along with the media, think tanks must continue to flourish and enrich social life.