` 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. Bilal Baloch

    (Centre for the Advanced Study of India)

    Crisis and Credibility: The Politics of Ideas in India and Developing Democracies

    Friday, February 8, 2019, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S450, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Bilal BalochHomepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard Univeristy Campus


      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S450


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Bilal Baloch is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CASI as well as Lecturer and Regional Director of the South Asia and Middle East & North Africa program at the Lauder Institute, Wharton School. At CASI Bilal focuses on the political economy of government behavior in India and other developing democracies. Here, he is revising his doctoral dissertation, Crisis, Credibility, and Corruption: How Ideas and Institutions Shape Government Behavior in India, into a monograph. Bilal has presented academic papers at several international conferences, including the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association. In addition to his scholarly publications, his commentary has appeared in a number of outlets including The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, and The Hindu. Prior to his doctoral studies, Bilal was Chief of Staff to Dean Vali Nasr at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. While at SAIS, he co-founded the annual SAIS Emerging Markets Series alongside former First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, John Lipsky. He also assisted in editing and contributed research toward Nasr’s book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat (2013). Bilal has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in international security, political economy, and comparative politics at Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania. Bilal completed his undergraduate studies in philosophy, logic, and the scientific method at The London School of Economics where he was the Anthony Giddens Scholar, and holds a Master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University where he was the Samuel J. Elder Scholar. He earned his doctorate in political science with graduate funding from Oxford University. You can follow him @BilalABaloch

  2. Gowri Vijayakumar

    (Brandeis University)

    The Mobilizing State: HIV/AIDS and Sexual Identity in India

    Friday, March 1, 2019, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer St

    • Gowri VijayakumarHomepage

      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.

      Gowri Vijayakumar is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University. Her research and teaching places gender, sexuality, labor, development, and social movements in transnational perspective. Most of her research focuses on India. Her current book project uses over 150 in-depth interviews alongside participant observation across India and Kenya to study the transnational circulation of HIV/AIDS programs, focusing on a group at the heart of Indian HIV/AIDS programs: sex workers. The project focuses on how sex worker groups engaged, and often challenged, corporate donors and state agencies, and became central to India's HIV/AIDS response. By tracing differences in HIV/AIDS programs and sex worker activism in Kolkata, Bangalore, and Nairobi, the book theorizes the consolidation and travel of "best practices" facilitated by donors, and examines how they shape, and are shaped by, local gendered political histories. Professor Vijayakumar is also interested in the shifting politics of gender and labor in urbanizing India. In a previous project, she examined gendered differences in young people’s articulations of their aspirations in relation to the global knowledge economy in a small town outside Bangalore. In future work, she plans to extend her study of gendered labor in Bangalore and its outskirts.

  3. Sarah Khan

    (Yale MacMillan Center)

    De Facto Suffrage: A Field Experiment to Improve Women's Turnout in Pakistan's General Elections

    Friday, April 12, 2019, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Sarah Khan Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S153


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Sarah Khan is a Postgraduate Associate at the Yale MacMillan Center. Her research interests lie in gender and the political economy of development, with a regional specialization in South Asia. Sarah’s research interests lie at the intersection of gender and comparative politics, with a regional specialization in South Asia. In her work she explores gender gaps in political preferences, and the barriers to women’s participation and substantive representation in Pakistan. In another strand of research, she explores questions related to the prevention of violence against women. Her research has been generously supported by grants from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, the Abdul Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) Governance Initiative, and the National Science Foundation.

  4. Ahsan Butt

    (George Mason University)

    *Postponed* Secession and Security in South Asia

    Fall 2019, TBD, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge

    • Ahsan Butt 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.

      Ahsan I. Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. His main research interests lie in nationalism, political violence, and South Asia. His book, Secession and Security: Explaining State Strategy Against Separatists, was published by Cornell University Press in 2017 and won the 2019 International Studies Association award for best book in International Security. His work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as International Organization, Journal of Global Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, Politics and Religion, and Security Studies, and has received generous support from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Mellon Foundation, the Stanton Foundation, and the United States Institute of Peace.