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.
(Centre for the Advanced Study of India)
Friday, February 8, 2019, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S450, 1730 Cambridge Street
1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
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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
Friday, March 1, 2019, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
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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.
(Yale MacMillan Center)
Friday, April 12, 2019, 2:00 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street
1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
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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.
(George Mason University)
Friday, May 3, 2019, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
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.