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.
Friday, September 6, 2019, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
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India’s 17th national elections, which recorded the highest turnout since independence, returned Narendra Modiand the BJP to power with an enhanced majority. What are the implications? The panelists debate.
Pradeep Chhibber is a Professor and Indo-American Chair in Indian Studies at the Institute for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He 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.
Sarah Khan is Lecturer of Political Science at Yale. She researches gender and comparative politics, with a regional specialization in South Asia. In her work, she studies gender gaps in political preferences, and the barriers to women’s political participation and representation.
Prerna Singh is Mahatma Gandhi Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University. Singh’s research focuses on the improvement of human well-being, particularly as it relates to the promotion of social welfare on the one hand, and to the mitigation of ethnic conflict and competition, on the other.
Milan Vaishnav is a senior fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. His primary research focus is the political economy of India.
Ashutosh Varshney is Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, where he also directs the Center for Contemporary South Asia. His research and teaching cover three areas: Ethnicity and Nationalism; Political Economy of Development; and South Asian Politics and Political Economy.
Friday, October 4, 2019, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge MA
MIT, 1 Amherst St, Cambridge MA
Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496,
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Sushant Singh is the Deputy Editor of The Indian Express newspaper in Delhi, who has reported extensively on national security issues in India. He had earlier served with the Indian Army for 20 years, which included multiple stints in Kashmir. He is currently a Lecturer at Yale for the Fall term, where he is teaching a class on India's National Security.
(George Mason University)
October 25, 2019, 2:00pm, 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.
(Yale MacMillan Center)
Friday, November 8, 2019, 2:30 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street
1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
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Can political representation help women upend entrenched systems of power? Property and Power, forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, finds evidence that quotas improve women’s ability to claim fundamental economic rights. Yet greater voice is costly. Whether women experience benefits or backlash depends on individual bargaining power at the time a woman is elected.
Rachel Brulé is an Assistant Professor of Global Development Policy at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, where she is a tenure-track faculty member. She is also a member of the Empirical Gender Research Network (E-GEN) and a Research Affiliate with NYU’s Global TIES for Children. She specializes in comparative politics with a substantive focus on gender, South Asia, political economy, and institutions. Her research combines careful causal identification with innovative theory building to understand why equity-promoting reforms have unintended consequences that may deepen inequality.
A series of forthcoming publications captures the impact of reforms expanding rights to a crucial good – land – in the world’s largest democracy: India. Her articles have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Politics and the Journal of Development Economics, and her first book manuscript, titled Women’s Representation and Resistance: Positive and Perverse Consequences of Indian Reforms for Gender Equality, is under contract with Cambridge University Press. In her book, she finds a paradoxical outcome of quotas improving women’s political voice: while representation ensures enforcement of women’s new economic rights, it also mobilizes backlash against them. A recent news article about her research can be found here.
Friday, November 22, 2019, 2:00pm, Brown Univeristy, Leung Conference Room, Watson Institute, 280 Brook St
Leung Conference Room, Watson Institute, 280 Brook St
Thibaud Marcesse is Assistant Professor of Comparative and South Asian Politics at Boston College. He received his Ph.D. in Government at Cornell University in 2018.
His research investigates the impact of institutional change in the field of poverty alleviation on the strategies pursued by political parties in rural India. In his dissertation, he focused specifically on the Right to Work Legislation that has been enforced in India since 2005, and its translation into public policy, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or NREGS. His field work has led him to explore the distortions to policy implementation, and what these distortions tell us about the way political entrepreneurs attempt to capture public resources for political benefit.
Marcesse's broader research interests include the political economy of development, institutions, political parties, ethnicity and the politics of foreign aid. His research has been published in World Development.