Globelics ’11: Lessons from India’s experience of innovation politics shared at Globelics

Report on STEPS UK-India collaborations at the 9th Globelics Conference, 17th November 2011(supported by UKIERI), by Adrian Ely

Perspectives from India were amongst those shared in an international panel on ‘Innovation for Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development’ at the 9th Globelics Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 17th November 2011. The paper that fed into our session was contributed by Dinesh Abrol and provided both important historical context as well as future challenges to no less that 26 other presentations at the conference that drew on evidence and insights from the country.

The session followed on from discussions that had taken place in Delhi in June alongside the launch of Indialics and the new journal ‘Innovation for Development’, edited by K J Joseph. In Buenos Aires, Adrian Ely presented on behalf of Dinesh Abrol, who was unable to attend due to illness, but had sent through a presentation introducing India’s innovation politics from the time of independence in 1947.

Dinesh’s first point was that the freedom movement (leading to independence) ensured peoples’ participation in agenda setting, funding, organising, capacity building and monitoring in respect of the creation of new social carriers of innovation. Through processes like the 1949 Radhakrishnan Commission (India’s first commission on higher education), policy discussions like these required the Nehruvians, Gandhians and Leftists to state in one voice the formation of rural and urban universities, and defined the university designs in terms of not only how to integrate the missions of teaching, research and extension (integrated scholarship) but also demanded that they create the resources needed for learning, competence building and innovation.

In the end, a different model to that prescribed in the Radhakrishnan Commission – that of Pant Nagar University (which was created with the help of Indo-US collaboration) was followed. This came alongside a closure of the previously open earlier debates during the post-sixties, marginalising the upgrading efforts of traditional systems (the peasant-artisan economy) and focussing on large scale industries / atomic energy / chemical complexes to feed industrializing agriculture. Closure also occurred because the nation state did not wish to carry out land reforms; the technology system associated with the green revolution, which the state subsidized heavily to achieve higher agricultural productivity and production, served to stabilize the position of rural gentry with big business. By the 1980s, the stage was set for a period of passive imitation of the innovation directions in various parts of the developed world. However some experiments fostering novel, home-grown innovation directions survived. In the second half of eighties the Peoples’ science movements tried using a systemic approach, e.g. through national missions (leather, agro processing etc). Their results have been promising and some of these technology systems are now supported by the Department of Science and Technology. However, Dinesh also stressed that the other major weakness now impacting on progress is the loss of counter hegemonic status of these ideas, which he refers to as the problem of “weak subjective factor”.

Adrian concluded by reading out Dinesh’s final slide, which asked the question “What is to be done?”
  •  Experimental spaces are possible to be created even now; the examples of open source, open access are there before us. We need appropriate social carriers of innovation; We need to explore the possibilities of building on the earlier experiments through a freedom movement-like effort with lessons learnt about how to provide ecologically and socially just solutions in a sustainable way.
  • Through the change in the political practice of innovation, the subjective factor must be strengthened (theory, policy and practice must dance together); new types of bridging organizations are required; viable network formation requires centering on the development of appropriate practice in food, health, IT and energy technologies. Following agro-ecological approaches is key in agriculture; break the ecological and social connections of pre-capitalist formations with the processes of capitalist development; mobilize the petty producers in a way that will allow them to see their interests with the workers and establish worker peasant unity in production.
  • Finally, international trading and investment arrangements are trying to foster agribusiness / global pharma business/ corporate biotech. We can resist only through the implementation of alternate political theory, policy and practice. Creating international solidarity around sector based efforts while strengthening umbrella efforts is the way forward.
The lessons highlighted above serve as an important basis for the Indian component of a new project within the STEPS Centre’s second phase that looks at and compares alternative innovation processes from Latin America and India. The session at Globelics, which was co-organised by the Argentinean partners on the same project, provided an important opportunity for innovation processes in the two regions (and perspectives from the UK) to be compared.