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.
Friday, September 15, 2017, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
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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.
(Visiting Fellow, Harvard Asia Center)
Friday, October 20, 2017, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
1 Amherst Street Cambridge, MA
Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495
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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.
Friday, November 17, 2017, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, K262, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street
Room K262, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
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.
Friday, December 1, 2017, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Rm, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute
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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.