` The South Asian Politics Seminar by Brown, Harvard and MIT

Joint Sem­i­nar on South Asian Pol­i­tics co-sponsored by the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown Uni­ver­sity, the Weath­er­head Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Affairs and the 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 Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia atWat­son 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)
Emmerich Davies (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. Gilles Verniers

    (Ashoka University)

    The Making of UP’s New Politicians: The Elite Roots of Inclusion

    Friday, September 23, 2022, 2:00 PM, McKinney Conference Room, Watson Insittute, 111 Thayer St, Providence RI

    • Gilles VerniersHomepage

      This talk will be given at Brown Univeristy Campus


      McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute
      111 Thayer St, Providence RI


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Gilles Verniers is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. He joined the faculty of the Young India Fellowship in 2012, and coordinated two courses titled ‘the BRICS course’ and ‘Governing the Indian Metropolis’. He is currently teaching the course “Making Sense of Indian Elections”. His research interests include electoral and party politics in India, the mechanisms of representation and participation in Indian politics, Indian regional politics, democratisation in South Asia, the sociology of elected representatives and other public elites, controversies and problems in India’s democracy, identity politics and the intersections between gender and politics in India. As Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Gilles leads a number of research projects and data building efforts on contemporary Indian politics.

  2. Tanu Kumar

    (Claremont Graduate University)

    Housing as welfare: How subsidized homeownership generates social mobility through wealth, voice, and dignity in India

    Friday, October 28, 2022, 2:00PM, Harvard University, CGIS South, Rm S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Tanu KumarHomepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      Rm S153, CGIS South
      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Tanu Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate University. She completed her PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley in May 2020. Kumar has been named a Susan Clarke Young Scholar and won a Best Dissertation Award (Honorable Mention) from APSA’s Urban and Local Politics Section. Kumar studies political, economic, and social behavior in low- and middle-income countries. How do citizens’ material circumstances affect the choices they make and how they interact with each other in society? What are the consequences of emerging global trends to change these fundamentals? Kumar is particularly interested in the effects of policies related to housing and digital technology. You can learn more about her work in The Washington Post, The Times of India, and the Ideas of India podcast.

  3. Vineeta Yadav

    (Penn State University)

    How Elite Risk Preferences Shape Democracy: Evidence from India and Pakistan

    Friday, November 4, 2022, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS South, Rm S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Vineeta YadavHomepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      Rm S153, CGIS South
      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Professor Yadav is an associate professor of political science at Penn State University. She recieved her Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University in 2007. Yadav’s research and teaching interests lie in comparative politics, political economy, economic development, and survey research. Her research specifically focuses on the political and policy consequences of institutional choice and design, the comparative study of business and religious interest-group behaviors and, their consequences for political outcomes and policy outcomes, judicial politics in developing countries and, economic development. She specializes in the politics of Brazil, India, Pakistan and Turkey. Her fourth book Religious Parties and the Politics of Civil Liberties (Oxford University Press) will be available in April, 2021.

  4. Christopher Clary

    (SUNY, Albany)

    The Difficult Politics of Peace

    Friday, December 9, 2022, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Rm, 111 Thayer St, Providence RI

    • Christopher ClaryHomepage

      This talk will be given at Brown Univeristy Campus


      McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute
      111 Thayer St, Providence RI


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Christopher Clary is an Assistant Professor of Political Science. His research focuses on the sources of cooperation in interstate rivalries, the causes and consequences of nuclear proliferation, U.S. defense policy, and the politics of South Asia. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University (2015-2016), a predoctoral fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University (2014-2015), a Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at the RAND Corporation (2013-2014), and a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in India (2009). Clary also served as country director for South Asian affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (2006–2009), a research associate at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California (2003–2005), and a research assistant at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. (2001–2003). He received his PhD in Political Science from MIT, an MA in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School, and a BA in History and International Studies from Wichita State University.

      Commentators:
      Christine Fair, Georgetown University
      Asfandyar Mir, United States Institute of Peace