Over Spring Break, students from the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies (IPS) traveled to India, where they met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leading officials.
In welcoming the students to India, the Prime Minister said that “they are all soon-to-be policymakers, and therefore, what they assimilate at this point in time, will definitely shape their decisions and choices in the near future.” He also answered questions about India’s relations with neighboring countries, his commitment to technology and e-governance, and competitive cooperative federalism.
“As Stanford students, we wanted to understand what India is doing to improve the ease of doing business in the country, such as improving labor laws and tax policies,” explained Radhika Lalit, an IPS student who helped organize the trip. “Modi pointed to how he was solving these problems, and came across as somebody who was very passionate about development and very genuine.”
This meeting was just one of a series of candid conversations with India’s most senior government officials, NGOs, think tanks, media, and business leaders, where students asked critical questions about the opportunities and challenges facing the world’s largest growing country.
“It was fascinating to actually see these challenges that we've been learning about, and gain a broader perspective of the social, political and economic changes that are happening,” said Bhavana Yarasuri, an IPS student who also helped plan the excursion.
A common theme from their meetings, particularly with the Finance Minister and the World Bank’s Country Director for India, was improving the business climate in the country and increasing foreign direct investment.
“We gathered that they clearly see India as a place of opportunity,” Lalit explained. “It seems like momentum is gathering, corruption levels are going down and the country is in a position to go to the next level.”
For the trip’s faculty leader Kathleen Stephens
, who served as Chargé d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in 2014, the takeaway from these meetings was clear: “India matters. Whatever our professional focus is or might be, we’ve got to keep paying attention to what’s happening in India. It will impact all of us.”
After touring the capital city of New Delhi, the students traveled to Mumbai, where they witnessed the country’s disparities first-hand in a visit to Dharavi, the world's largest slum.
Yet even in Dharavi, there was a thriving economy. “I was so surprised to see they had a plastic industry, and factories for aluminum, leather tanning, chemicals, paints, textiles, and garments,” said Yarasuri, who explained that there were even stores with air conditioning and millionaires that chose to live there. “It was fascinating.”
This day in Mumbai—which began in the slum and ended at a Stanford alumni reception in a beautiful high-rise building—was a memorable experience that, for Stephens, exemplified the “extraordinary extremes and the remarkable human resilience and talent that epitomize India's genius and challenge.”
Overall, Yarasuri said, “I would rate this as one of the best experiences I've had at Stanford.”
The IPS spring break trip is offered annually, and in a different country each year. Visit the IPS website for details and more information about previous trips. Photos courtesy of the Press Trust of India and Radhika Kapoor Lalit.