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.
(University of Oslo)
Friday, September 7, 2018, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S354, 1730 Cambridge Street
1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
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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.
(University of Maryland)
Friday, October 19, 2018, 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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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.
Friday, November 2, 2018, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street
1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
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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.
(Council on Foreign Relations)
Friday, December 7, 2018, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
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.