` 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. Rumela Sen

    (Columbia University)

    Rebel Retirement Through Informal Exit Networks: Evidence From India

    Friday, February 7, 2020, 2:00 PM, Brown University, McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St

    • 2019 Indian Elections PanelHomepage

      This talk will be given at Brown Univeristy Campus


      111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
      McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Rumela Sen is an Associate Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. She teaches in the department of political science at Columbia University. She received her PhD from the Department of Government, Cornell University. Her current research focuses on rebel retirement and reintegration, primarily in South Asia.

  2. Tanvi Madan

    (Brookings Institution)

    Fateful Triangle: How China shaped US-India relations during the Cold War

    Friday, March 13, 2020, 2:00pm, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge MA

    • Tanvi Madan Homepage

      This talk will be given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


      MIT, 1 Amherst St, Cambridge MA
      Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496,


      Click here for a map and directions.

      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.

      Madan is the author of the book "Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations during the Cold War" (Brookings Institution Press, 2020). She is currently completing a monograph on India’s foreign policy diversification strategy, and researching her next book on the China-India-US triangle.

  3. Gautam Nair

    (Yale University)

    Business, Voters, and Distributive Politics in Developing Democracies

    Friday, April 10, 2020, 2:30pm, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Gautam Nair Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S153


      Click here for a map and directions.

      Gautam Nair is a PhD candidate in political science at Yale University. 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.

  4. Rikhil Bhavnani

    (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

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

    Friday, May 1, 2020, 2:00 PM, Brown University, McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St

    • Rikhil BhavnaniHomepage

      This talk will be given at Brown Univeristy Campus


      111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
      McKinney Conference Rm, Watson Institute


      Click here for a map and directions.

      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.