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.
(Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan)
Friday, September 23, 2016, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute
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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.
Friday, October 14, 2016, 2:00 PM, Harvard, K354, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street
1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA
Room K354, CGIS Knafel
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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.
Friday, November 18, 2016, 2:00 PM, S153, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street
Room S153, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
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.
(University of Chicago)
Friday, December 9, 2016, 2:00 PM, MIT, Pye Conference Room, E40-4951, 1 Amherst Street
Pye Conference Room, E40-4951, 1 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
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.