*FINAL 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:

Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

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. Aseema Sinha

    (Claremont McKenna)

    Degrees of Clientelism in the World's Largest Democracy

    Friday, September 25, 2015, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum

    • Aseema SinhaHomepage

      This talk will be given at the Watson Institute at Brown University

      111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
      Joukowsky Forum

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Aseema Sinha is the Wagener Chair of South Asian Politics and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College’s Government department. She was previously an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Professor Sinha received her B.A. from Lady Shri Ram College. She received her M.A. and M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi, India). She received an M.A. and Ph.D from Cornell University. Her research interests relate to political economy of India, India-China comparisons, international Organizations, and the rise of India as an emerging power.

      Her first book, The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India (2005) won the Joseph Elder Book Prize in the Indian Social Science; Her second book Globalizing India: How Global Rules and Markets are Shaping India’s Rise to Power is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press (2016). Her book, The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India: A Divided Leviathan (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2005), received the Joseph Elder Book Prize in the Indian Social Sciences.

  2. Sandip Sukhtankar

    (Dartmouth College)

    How Does MNREGA Affect Rural Labor Markets and Incomes? Evidence From a Large-scale Experiment

    Friday, October 9, 2015, 2:00 PM, Room K354,1737 Cambridge Street

    • Sandip Sukhtankar Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      Room K354, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Sandip Sukhtankar is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Dartmouth College. His research interests are development economics, political economy, and public economics, with a particular focus on corruption, governance, and the delivery of public benefits and services. He is an affiliate of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD) and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and a contributor to Ideas for India.

  3. Devesh Kapur

    (University of Pennsylvania )

    The Other One Percent: Indians in America

    Friday, November 13, 2015, 2:00 PM, Harvard, S050, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

    • Devesh Kapur Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      S050, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Devesh Kapur was appointed Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India in 2006. He is Professor of Political Science at Penn, and holds the Madan Lal Sobti Chair for the Study of Contemporary India. Prior to arriving at Penn, Professor Kapur was Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, and before that the Frederick Danziger Associate Professor of Government at Harvard. His research focuses on human capital, national and international public institutions, and the ways in which local-global linkages, especially international migration and international institutions, affect political and economic change in developing countries, especially India.

      His book, Diaspora, Democracy and Development: The Impact of International Migration from India on India , published by Princeton University Press in August 2010, earned him the 2012 ENMISA (Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Section of International Studies Association) Distinguished Book Award. His latest book, Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs (co-authored with D. Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad), was published in July 2014 by Random House India. Professor Kapur is the recipient of the Joseph R. Levenson Teaching Prize awarded to the best junior faculty, Harvard College, in 2005. He is a monthly contributor to the Business Standard. Professor Kapur holds a B. Tech in Chemical Engineering from the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University; an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota; and a Ph.D. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.