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, three institutions of the Boston-Providence area: the Watson Institute at Brown, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs 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.
Dr. Jennifer Bussell is an Assistant Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. Her research focuses on the comparative politics and political economy of development and governance, with an emphasis on understanding the effects of formal and informal institutions—such as federalism, coalition politics, and corruption—on policy outcomes. She has conducted detailed research on information technology and governance, based on fieldwork in 17 Indian states, as well as in South Africa and Brazil. Her book, Corruption and Reform in India: Public Services in the Digital Age, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. Prior to joining the LBJ School, Dr. Bussell received her PhD in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and was a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Asian Democracy at the University of Louisville.
Devesh Kapur is Director CASI and Madan Lal Sobti Associate Professor for the Study of Contemporary India. His research examines local-global linkages in political and economic change in developing countries, particularly India, focusing on the role of domestic and international institutions and international migration. He is the coauthor of The World Bank: Its First Half Century (with John Lewis and Richard Webb, Brookings); Give Us Your Best and Brightest: The Global Hunt for Talent and Its Impact on the Developing World (with John McHale, Center for Global Development) and Public Institutions in India: Performance and Design (coedited with Pratap Mehta, Oxford University Press). He has a B. Tech and M.S. in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Princeton University. He received the Joseph R. Levenson Teaching Prize, Harvard College, in 2005.
Lant Pritchett is Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (as of July 1, 2007).
In addition he works as a consultant to Google.org, is a non-resident fellow of the Center for Global Development, and is a senior fellow of BREAD. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics.
He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1983 with a B.S. in Economics and in 1988 from MIT with a PhD in Economics.
After finishing at MIT Lant joined the World Bank, where he held a number of positions in the Bank’s research complex between 1988 and 1998, including as an adviser to Lawrence Summers when he was Vice President 1991-1993. From 1998 to 2000 he worked in Indonesia. From 2000 to 2004 Lant was on leave from the World Bank as a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2004 he returned to the World Bank and moved to India where he worked until May 2007.
He has been part of the team producing many World Bank reports, including: World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for Development, Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why (1998), Better Health Systems for Indias Poor: Findings, Analysis, and Options (2003), World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for the Poor, Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reforms (2005).
In addition he has authored (alone or with one of his 22 co-authors) over 50 papers published in refereed journals, chapters in books, or as articles, as least some of which are sometimes cited. In addition to economics journals his work has appeared in specialized journals in demography, education, and health. In 2006 he published his first solo authored book Let Their People Come.
Adam Ziegfeld is a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. He received a Ph.D. in political science in 2009 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, before that, an A.B. from Dartmouth College. His research examines various aspects of electoral politics, especially in democracies where clientelism is pervasive. Adam’s current book project explores party system formation in India, with a particular focus on regional political parties. Other on-going research looks at corruption perceptions, dominant party systems, electoral rules, and party nomination strategies. Adam’s research has appeared in Comparative Politics and been supported by the British Academy, the National Security Education Program, Oxford’s John Fell OUP Research Fund, and MIT’s Center for International Studies.
Srinath Raghavan is Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
He is also Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London. Previously, he was Associate Fellow at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He has been associated with King’s College’s e-learning programme, War in the Modern World, and was a Visiting Lecturer at Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. He took his MA and PhD in War Studies from King’s College London. Prior to joining academia, he spent six years as an infantry officer in the Indian army.
Srinath’s research interests are in the international politics of South Asia, India’s foreign and defence policies since 1947, civil-military relations, Indian military history, and strategic theory. His book War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years was published in early 2010. He is now writing an international history of the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh.