` 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:

Chair:
Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

Co-Directors:
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. The Border Crisis and the Future of India-China Relations

    M. Taylor Fravel, Shivshankar Menon, Tanvi Madan, and Vipin Narang

    Monday, September 28, 2020, 11:00 AM, Via Zoom

    • The Border CrisisEvent Page

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      Join Shivshankar Menon, Tanvi Madan and Taylor Fravel to discuss recent conflicts surrounding the border between China and India.

      Chair: Vipin Narang, MIT

      Shivshankar Menon is Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, and a Distinguished Fellow of Brookings International. He has been a Richard Wilhelm Fellow at MIT and Fisher Family Fellow at Harvard. Menon was National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India from January 2010 to May 2014. Menon was previously Foreign Secretary of India from October 2006 to August 2009. He has served as Ambassador and High Commissioner of India to Israel (1995-7), Sri Lanka (1997-2000), China (2000-2003) and Pakistan (2003-2006). He was also a member of the Atomic Energy Commission, 2008-14. A career diplomat, he served in China (thrice), in Japan, and in Austria in the Embassy and the Mission to the IAEA and UN.

      Tanvi Madan is a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy in the Foreign Policy program, and director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Madan’s work explores India’s role in the world and its foreign policy, focusing in particular on India's relations with China and the United States. She also researches the intersection between Indian energy policies and its foreign and security policies.

      M. Taylor Fravel is the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and Director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Taylor studies international relations, with a focus on international security, China, and East Asia. His books include, Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes, (Princeton University Press, 2008) and Active Defense: China's Military Strategy Since 1949 (Princeton University Press, 2019).

  2. Mashail Malik

    (Stanford University)

    Discrimination and Defiant Pride: How the Demand for Dignity Creates Slack for Poor Governance

    Friday, October 23, 2020, 12:00pm, Via Zoom

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      Mashail Malik studys how social identities – such as ethnicity and class – both shape and are shaped by political life. Currently a Gerald J. Lieberman Fellow, a Ric Weiland Graduate Fellow, and a Dissertation Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, Malik, will begin her appointment as Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University in fall 2021. Her dissertation project is centered on the politics of ethnicity in Karachi – Pakistan’s largest megacity. Her research agenda further includes topics on political violence, state repression, civil-military relations, and the intersection of identity and economic conflict.

      Discussant: Steven Rosenzweig, Boston University

  3. Rikhil Bhavnani

    (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

    Gandhi's Gift: Successful Mass Nonviolence and India's Decolonization

    Friday, November 20, 2020, 12:00 PM, Via Zoom

    • Rikhil BhavnaniHomepage

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      In this presentation, Bhavnani will focus on his joint work with Stanford's Sumitra Jha, which you can read here "Gandhi's Gift".

      Rikhil R. Bhavnani is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a faculty affiliate at the La Follette School of Public Affairs, the Elections Research Center and the Center for South Asia.

      Professor Bhavnani’s research and teaching focus on inequalities in political representation, the political economy of migration, and the political economy of development. His research is particularly concerned with causal identification, and is focused on South Asia. Bhavnani is the co-author, with Bethany Lacina, of a book on the backlash against within-country migration across the developing world, published by Cambridge University Press. His articles have been published or are forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, World Politics, the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and other outlets.

      Prior to starting at UW–Madison, Professor Bhavnani was a visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. He has worked at the Center for Global Development and the International Monetary Fund, and received a PhD in political science and an MA in economics from Stanford University, and a BA in political science and economics from Yale University.

  4. Gautam Nair

    (Harvard University)

    Business, Voters, and Distributive Politics in Developing Democracies

    Friday, December 4, 2020, 12:00 PM, Via Zoom

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      Gautam Nair is a a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he is a faculty affiliate of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Center for International Development. His research is in comparative and international political economy, and focuses primarily on the politics of democracy and redistribution. He has been published in The Journal of Politics and International Organization. His work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and the Leitner Political Economy Program at Yale.