` 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. Francesca Jensenius

    (University of Oslo)

    Constructing a majority: A micro-level study of voting patterns in Indian elections

    Friday, September 7, 2018, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S354, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Francesca JenseniusHomepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard Univeristy Campus


      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S050


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Francesca R. Jensenius specializes in comparative politics, comparative political economy, and research methods, with a regional focus on South Asia and Latin America. Her main research interest is how electoral dynamics and institutional design affect different types of inequality in society. This she pursues through a multi-method approach, combining large-scale data collection and analysis with extensive field work. Several of Jensenius' publications are about state approaches to empowering minorities and women and India and elsewhere. In the book Social Justice through Inclusion: The Consequences of Electoral Quotas in India (OUP 2017), she explored the long-term effects of electoral quotas for the Scheduled Castes (the former "untouchables"). She has also published on, among other things, the political inclusion of women in Indian politics, the link between the organizational features of political parties and electoral outcomes, and how electoral incentives affect local-level development patterns. Jensenius is currently working on the relationship between political institutions, electoral dynamics, and local-level development patterns in India, as well as a comparative project about how legal regimes and legal changes across the world differentially affect women and other marginalized communities.

  2. Sonalde Desai

    (University of Maryland)

    TBD

    Friday, October 19, 2018, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St

    • Sonalde DesaiHomepage

      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.

      Sonalde Desai is a demographer whose work deals primarily with social inequalities in developing countries with a particular focus on gender and class inequalities. She studies inequalities in education, employment and maternal and child health outcomes by locating them within the political economy of the region. While much of her research focuses on South Asia, she has also engaged in comparative studies across Asia, Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa. She has published articles in a wide range of sociological and demographic journals including American Sociological Review, Demography, Population and Development Review and Feminist Studies. Professor Desai is currently examining changes in the nature and composition of Indian middle classes in the context of India’s movement from state-capitalism to market-capitalism and increasing involvement in the global economy. Sonalde Desai and Reeve Vanneman, in collaboration with National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, have just completed a multi-sectoral survey of over 40,000 households across India which provides a rich resource for research on the relationship between poverty, gender inequality and public policy on the one hand and different dimensions of human development on the other.

  3. Vijayendra Rao

    (World Bank)

    Deliberative inequality: a text-as-data study of Tamil Nadu's village assemblies

    Friday, November 2, 2018, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Vijayendra Rao Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S153


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Vijayendra Rao is a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. Dr. Rao has published on a variety of subjects that include dowries and domestic violence in India, the economics of celebrations, sex work in Calcutta, participatory development, village democracy and deliberation, and inter-disciplinary approaches to public policy. He co-edited Culture and Public Action, and History, Historians and Development Policy, and co-authored the 2006 World Development Report on Equity and Development. Most recently, with Ghazala Mansuri, he co-authored the World Bank's Policy Research Report on Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? Dr. Rao obtained a BA (Economics, Statistics, Sociology) from St. Xavier's College - Bombay (now Mumbai), a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, was a post-doctoral fellow at the Economics Research Center and an Associate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, and taught at the University of Michigan and Williams College before joining the World Bank's Research Department in 1999. He serves on the editorial boards of several journals, and is a member of the Successful Societies Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and affiliated with research institutes and NGOs in India, the US, and the UK.

  4. Alyssa Ayres

    (Council on Foreign Relations)

    TBD

    Friday, December 7, 2018, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge

    • Alyssa Ayres Homepage


      This talk will be given at MIT


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


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). She came to CFR after serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia from 2010 to 2013. Her book about India’s rise on the world stage, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making Its Place in the World, was published by Oxford University Press in January 2018, and was recently selected by the Financial Times for its “Summer 2018: Politics” list. At CFR her work focuses on India’s role in the world and on U.S. relations with South Asia. In 2015, she served as the project director for the CFR-sponsored independent task force on U.S.-India relations, and from 2014 to 2016, as the project director for an initiative on the new geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan supported by the MacArthur Foundation. During her tenure at the State Department in the Barack Obama administration, Ayres covered all issues across a dynamic region of 1.3 billion people (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) and provided policy direction for four U.S. embassies and four consulates.