` 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. Saad Gulzar

    (Stanford University)

    Why do citizens become politicians? Experimental evidence on candidacy

    Friday, September 15, 2017, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St

    • Saad GulzarHomepage

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


      111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
      Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Saad Gulzar is an Assistant Professor of political science at Stanford University. His research interests lie in the political economy of development and comparative politics, with a regional focus on South Asia. He explores the determinants of politician and bureaucratic effort toward citizen welfare. His work has been published in the American Political Science Review and been supported by grants from the International Growth Center, the Jameel Abdul Latif Poverty Action Lab’s Governance Initiative, the World Bank, and the American Institute of Pakistan Studies. He is a junior fellow at the Association for Analytical Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies, a research fellow in political economy at the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan, and an affiliate of the Consortium for Development Policy Research. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science at New York University.

  2. Arjun Subramaniam

    (Visiting Fellow, Harvard Asia Center)

    War and Conflict in Contemporary India

    Friday, October 20, 2017, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge

    • Arjun SubramaniamHomepage

      This event will take place at MIT in the Lucian Pye Conference Room


      1 Amherst Street Cambridge, MA
      Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (Retd) is a fighter pilot-scholarauthor who recently retired from the Indian Air Force after 36 years in uniform. He is an experienced fighter pilot with command, staff and instructional experience. A P.h.D in Defence and Strategic Studies from the University of Madras, India, he is a prolific writer, strategic commentator, and military historian and writes in the public domain for reputed journals, magazines and newspapers. He is the author of three books including the well-received ‘India’s Wars: A Military History 1947- 1971’ that has been published in India by Harper Collins and has been recently published in the US by the US Naval Institute Press. His other books are titled ‘Reflections of an Air Warrior’ and ‘Wider Horizons: Perspectives on National Security, Air Power & Leadership. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Asia Center to research and write the sequel to his book on war and conflict in contemporary India (1972-2015). He is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies in Washington D.C and a contributing editor at The Print, an online news and opinion platform.

  3. Tara Beteille

    (World Bank)

    The Contentious Politics of Teacher Transfers in India: A Way Forward

    Friday, November 17, 2017, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS South 153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Tara Beteille Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      CGIS South 153, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Tara Béteille is currently Senior Economist in the Education Global Practice at the World Bank, where she focuses on project design, implementation, evaluation and research. She is currently leading two engineering education projects in India, and research related to teacher appointments and transfers. She joined the World Bank in 2010 through the Young Professional’s Program. Prior to joining the World Bank, Tara was a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice (now CEPA), Stanford University. She received her PhD from Stanford University in 2009, where she was a recipient of the William Kimball and Sara Hart Stanford Graduate Fellowship. Tara also holds Master’s degrees in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics (2000) and Stanford University (2009). Tara’s research has focused on teacher and principal labor markets. Her dissertation, Absenteeism, Transfers and Patronage: The Political Economy of Teacher Labor Markets in India, argues that strategic linkages between teachers and politicians compromise teacher accountability efforts in large parts of India. During her post doctoral year, she worked on principal labor markets. Tara’s interest in teacher labor markets dates to 2000, when she worked with ICICI Bank, India, managing their nonprofit funding in education. Her experiences over this period made her acutely aware of the range of political and bureaucratic processes governing policy outcomes, and the need to study teacher accountability as a systemic issue in order to frame effective policies.

  4. Soledad Artiz Prillaman

    (Harvard University)

    When Women Mobilize: Dissecting India's Gender Gap in Political Representation

    Friday, December 1, 2017, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Rm, 111 Thayer St

    • Soledad Artiz Prillaman Homepage


      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.

      Soledad Artiz Prillaman recieved her Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Harvard University. Her research focuses on comparative political economy, economic development, gender, and the politics of the welfare state, with a regional focus in India. Her dissertation seeks to better understand why women in India, and developing countries more broadly, are particularly disengaged from politics and to identify the mechanisms through which the prevailing political gender gap is reduced. In doing so, I evaluate the mechanisms by which the state is strengthened through increased political integration of women in India by detailing the oft-unconsidered consequences of development interventions for political behavior and local politics. Additionally it evaluates how women who have become active political agents organize politically and are received and resisted by traditional political networks. Prior to entering Harvard, she received a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Texas A&M University in 2011.