` The South Asian Politics Seminar by Brown, Harvard and MIT

Joint Sem­i­nar on South Asian Pol­i­tics co-sponsored by the Brown-India Initiative at the Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown Uni­ver­sity, the Weath­er­head Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Affairs and South Asia Institute at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, and the MIT Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Studies

The eco­nomic and strate­gic rel­e­vance of South Asia has enor­mously grown in recent years. While India’s eco­nomic story and South Asia’s strug­gle with ter­ror are often noted, there is a great deal more to the region, which is of intel­lec­tual relevance.

Con­sider some of the “big” ques­tions of pol­i­tics, polit­i­cal econ­omy and secu­rity, on which the South Asian region in gen­eral, and India in par­tic­u­lar, offer engag­ing perspectives:

(1) His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, uni­ver­sal fran­chise democ­racy came to the West after the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion had been com­pleted. In India, uni­ver­sal fran­chise was born at a time when the coun­try was over­whelm­ingly agrar­ian and man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sti­tuted a mere 2–3% of GDP. What can we sur­mise about the simul­ta­ne­ous pur­suit of eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion and demo­c­ra­tic deep­en­ing from India’s expe­ri­ence? India-China com­par­isons are directly rel­e­vant here. More gen­er­ally, as Africa and other Asian coun­tries con­tem­plate eco­nomic future, is democ­racy to be viewed as a polit­i­cal frame­work within which eco­nomic devel­op­ment ought to be pursued?

(2) His­tor­i­cally, man­u­fac­tur­ing has always led an eco­nomic rev­o­lu­tion. It is as true of Europe and the US as of East Asia. In India, high-tech ser­vices, pri­mar­ily export-based, have led the boom, and are now wrestling with an inter­na­tional eco­nomic down­turn. What are the larger lessons of a services-led eco­nomic transformation?

(3) India’s democ­racy has func­tioned amidst one of the most hier­ar­chi­cal social orders the world has wit­nessed: viz., caste sys­tem. Has the equal­ity prin­ci­ple of democ­racy under­mined the caste sys­tem, or have caste inequal­i­ties changed the script of Indian democ­racy, forc­ing it to dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly from the West­ern demo­c­ra­tic experience?

(4) Seri­ous regional dis­par­i­ties mark vir­tu­ally the entire region. In India, com­pared to the north­ern and east­ern states, the south­ern and west­ern states have not only boomed eco­nom­i­cally, but their human devel­op­ment per­for­mance has been markedly supe­rior. In Pak­istan, Pun­jab con­tin­ues to be far ahead of the other regions. How does one explain such vari­a­tions? Are there larger social sci­ence the­o­ries at stake? Can newer the­o­ries be developed?

(5) The shadow of secu­rity over pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics is now dark and deep. Why has ter­ror­ism taken such roots in Pak­istan? What is it about the polity or soci­ety of Pak­istan that has pro­vided a home to ter­ror­ism? Given how ter­ror­ism works, can it spread to India in a sig­nif­i­cant way?

(6) The secu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan is now the cen­ter of inter­na­tional atten­tion. How does one under­stand the secu­rity prob­lems of Afghanistan? Why is estab­lish­ing order such a mon­u­men­tal task in Afghanistan and also a tall task in Pakistan?

(7) Secu­rity has a so-called softer side. Human rights of some minor­ity groups have been com­pro­mised for the sake of “nation-building” all over the region. This is true even in India, which has func­tioned as a democ­racy for over six decades. With far greater inten­sity, the same issues crop up in Sri Lanka, once the most vig­or­ous democ­racy in the devel­op­ing world. Why have South Asian democ­ra­cies found it hard to develop more robust human rights regimes? Is it a South Asian prob­lem, or a more generic prob­lem of democ­ra­cies faced with insurgencies?

(8) In a related vein, rag­ing debates over the rule of law have taken place all over South Asia. In India, the debate has also cov­ered the role of pub­lic inter­est lit­i­ga­tion. Why have South Asian soci­eties strug­gled so hard to estab­lish a reli­able legal regime? Is it sim­ply a func­tion of low incomes and unsta­ble secu­rity envi­ron­ments? Or, do cul­tural and soci­o­log­i­cal norms seri­ously clash with the rule of law? Do we have the­o­ries that tell us how rule of law got insti­tu­tion­al­ized in the richer coun­tries? Can those the­o­ries be used for under­stand­ing South Asia?

(9) South Asia as a region has been one of the orig­i­nal homes of the NGO move­ment in the world. Some of the world’s most respected non-governmental orga­ni­za­tions have been work­ing in Bangladesh, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka and India. What can we learn about what kinds of NGOs suc­ceed and what types fail? Is the learn­ing region-specific, or is it portable?

(10) India’s demo­c­ra­tic longevity has coex­isted with sub­stan­tial party frac­tion­al­iza­tion. Over the last twenty years, Delhi has been ruled by coali­tion gov­ern­ments. Such coali­tions have nor­mally marked poli­ties that have pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, not first-past-the-post sys­tems, which tend to pro­duce fewer par­ties in power. How do we under­stand India’s party fractionalization?

The list above is not exhaus­tive, but these are some of the issues that this annual sem­i­nar series, con­cen­trat­ing on con­tem­po­rary South Asian pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal econ­omy, will inves­ti­gate. Some ses­sions of the sem­i­nar will be entirely aca­d­e­mic, but other ses­sions will con­cep­tu­al­ized as a Haber­masian pub­lic sphere, where aca­d­e­mics alone do not monop­o­lize dis­course. Rather, pub­lic fig­ures — from pol­i­tics, busi­ness, jour­nal­ism, secu­rity and NGO sec­tor– and aca­d­e­mic researchers and stu­dents will engage in a sus­tained con­ver­sa­tion. Knowl­edge, inevitably, has many facets.

This sem­i­nar is a joint effort of, and is funded by, four insti­tu­tions of the Boston-Providence area: the Brown-India Initiative at the Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown, the Weath­er­head Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Affairs and the South Asia Institute both at Har­vard and the MIT Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Stud­ies. It will be co-directed by fac­ulty work­ing on dif­fer­ent aspects of South Asian pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal econ­omy in each of these uni­ver­si­ties. The loca­tion of the sem­i­nar will alter­nate between Brown, Har­vard and MIT. A detailed pro­gram for the series can be found below.

Orga­niz­ing committee:

Chair:
Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

Co-Directors:
Patrick Heller (Brown)
Pre­rna Singh (Brown)
Akshay Mangla (Har­vard)
Vipin Narang (MIT)

Sem­i­nar series:
Fall 2015
Spring 2015
Fall 2014
Spring 2014
Fall 2013
Spring 2012
Fall 2011
Spring 2011
Fall 2010
Spring 2010
Fall 2009

  1. Aruna Roy

    (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)

    Development and Politics in Indian Democracy

    Friday, September 23, 2016, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St

    • Aruna RoyHomepage

      This talk will be given at the Watson Institute on Brown University Campus


      111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
      McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Aruna Roy is an Indian political and social activist who founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) along with Shankar Singh, Nikhil Dey and many others. The MKSS began by fighting for fair and equal wages for workers which shaped and evolved into a struggle for the enactment of India's Right to Information Act. Aruna Roy is a leader of the Right to Information movement in India through the MKSS and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information(NCPRI), which was finally successful with the passage of the Right to Information Act in 2005.

  2. Prerna Singh

    (Brown University)

    New Potions in Old Bottles: Explaining the Differential Control of Smallpox in 19th Century Canton and Calcutta

    Friday, October 14, 2016, 2:00 PM, Harvard, K354, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street

    • Prerna SinghHomepage

      This talk will be given in the CGIS Knafel building at Harvard University


      1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA
      Room K354, CGIS Knafel


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Prerna Singh is Mahatma Gandhi Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies and faculty fellow at the Watson Institute, and co-convenor of the Brown-Harvard-MIT Joint Seminar in South Asian Politics. She completed her PhD and MA from the Department of Politics at Princeton University, the tripos in social and political studies from Cambridge University, UK, and a BA (Honors) in economics from Delhi University. Prior to joining Brown, she taught in the Department of Government at Harvard University. She has also been a junior fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and held a pre-doctoral research fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study for India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania.

  3. Simon Chauchard

    (Dartmouth College)

    Who Influences Voters in Rural India? An Experiemental Approach

    Friday, November 18, 2016, 2:00 PM, S153, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Simon Chauchard Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University


      Room S153, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138


          
      Click here for a map and directions.

      Simon Chauchard is an Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Dartmouth College, and a faculty affiliate in the Asia and Middle Eastern Studies program. Chauchard received his Ph.D. in 2011 from NYU. His research focuses on ethnic politics, voting behavior, clientelism, political representation and politicians-citizens relations in India. Recent works have appeared in Political opinion Quarterly, the American Political Science Review andComparative Political Studies. His book manuscript, titled Political Representation and Intergroup Relations in Rural India (forthcoming at Cambridge University Press), combines ethnographic work and a series of innovative surveys to explore the impact of caste-based reservation policies on everyday intergroup relations in India’s villages. Ongoing projects rely on qualitative and experimental methodologies to explore the role that money and other forms of influence play in Indian elections.

  4. Paul Staniland

    (University of Chicago)

    Armed Poilitcs: Violence, Order, and the State in Southern Asia

    Friday, December 9, 2016, 2:00 PM, MIT, Pye Conference Room, E40-4951, 1 Amherst Street

    • Atul Kohli Homepage

      This talk will be given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


      Pye Conference Room, E40-4951, 1 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02139


          
      Click here for a map and directions.

      Paul Staniland is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he codirects the Program on International Security Policy. He is a cofounder of the Program on Political Violence. His research focuses on political violence, international security, and state formation, primarily in South and Southeast Asia. His book, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse, was published by Cornell University Press in 2014. He is currently writing a book about armed politics and the state in southern Asia.