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.
(University of California, Berkeley)
Friday, February 6, 2015, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum
111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
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Pradeep Chhibber is professor of political science at UC Berkeley, where he directs the Institute of International Studies. He is also the Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies. Chhibber studies party systems, party aggregation, and the politics of India. His research examines the relationship between social divisions and party competition and conditions that lead to the emergence of national or regional parties in a nation-state. Chhibber has previously written about the influence of caste and religion in twenty-first century politics in India. His work also addresses the influence of party politics and party systems on state policy and the delivery of public goods, and the gendered nature of representation in electoral politics in India.
He is the author of Religious Practice and Democracy in India (Cambridge University Press, 2014, with Sandeep Shastri), The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Britain, Canada, India, and the U.S. (Princeton University Press, 2004, with Ken Kollman), and Democracy without Associations: Transformation of Party Systems and Social Cleavages in India (University of Michigan Press, 1999). He received an M.A. and an M.Phil. from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. from UCLA.
(University of California, Santa Barbara)
Friday, February 27, 2015, 2:00 PM, MIT Center for International Studies, Room E40-464
Amit Abuja is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His research concentrates on the processes of inclusion and exclusion in multiethnic societies, studied within the context of ethnic parties and movements, military organization, and inter-caste marriage in South Asia. He focuses on the politics of marginalized minorities—those who have been left out of social, political, and economic progress by virtue of their racial and ethnic characteristics, as well as their economic and religious status.
He has completed one book manuscript, Mobilizing Marginalized Citizens: Ethnic Parties and Ethnic Movements, and has a second book-length project currently in development called Building National Armies in Multiethnic States.
(Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
Friday, March 13, 2015, 2:00 PM, Harvard, CGIS Knafel (North), Room K354
CGIS Knafel Building (North)
1737 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA
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Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.
One of his ongoing major projects examines the causes and consequences of political corruption in India with an emphasis on representation and quality of political leadership, connections between the state and private capital, and the management and exploitation of natural resources. He also works on development policy as well as issues of governance in developing countries and their relation to democratic accountability.
He is the co-editor of the book Short of the Goal: U.S. Policy and Poorly Performing States (Center for Global Development, 2006). His work has also been published in the Latin American Research Review. Previously, he worked at the Center for Global Development, where he served as a postdoctoral research fellow, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has taught at Columbia, Georgetown, and George Washington Universities.
(Azim Premji University)
Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room
111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
McKinney Conference Room
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Chandan Gowda is a Professor of Sociology at Azim Premji University in Karnataka, India. Gowda worked as Associate Professor of Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bangalore, after earning his Ph.D. degree at the Department of Sociology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2007. He obtained an M.A. degree in sociology from the University of Hyderabad in 1996 and a Ph.D. Certificate in Cultural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 1998.
Gowda's research interests include social theory, Indian normative traditions, caste, and Kannada literature and cinema. In addition to his academic publications, he has written for newspapers and published translations of Kannada fiction and non-fiction in English. Before moving to APU, he was Associate Professor of Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bengaluru, between 2008 and 2011. He is presently completing a book on the cultural politics of development in old Mysore state.