` 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. Aditya Dasgupta

    (University of California, Merced)

    Weapons of the Weak: The Violent Consequences of Biased Technological Change

    Friday, February 5, 2021, 11:00 AM, Via Zoom

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      Adi Dasgupta is assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Merced. He completed his PhD at Harvard University and was previously a postdoc at Stanford University. Dasgupta's research is in comparative politics, political economy, and political-economic history/development. He works in three areas: (i) the political economy of democratization; (ii) the role of technological change in political development; (iii) the development of state capacity. Much of his work is on rural India, including his book project on the political consequences of the green revolution. Dasgupta is also building a lab on the political economy of agriculture and rural societies (PEARS). His articles appear in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Economic History, and International Organization and have received awards from the APSA Democracy and Autocracy and Science, Technology and Environmental Politics sections.

  2. Nirvikar Jassal

    (Stanford University)

    Policing and Gendered Cases in India

    Friday, February 26, 2021, 11:00am, Via Zoom

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      Nirvikar Jassal is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University. His research focuses on gender, sexual violence, ethnic conflict and hate crime, and policing with a regional focus on South Asia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, Asian Survey and Journal of Asian Studies. He completed his PhD from the University of California—Berkeley in 2020, and previously worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and New York City government.

  3. Susan Ostermann

    (University of Notre Dame)

    Capacity Beyond Coercion: Regulatory Pragmatism and Compliance Along the India-Nepal Border

    Friday, March 26, 2021, 11:00 AM, Via Zoom

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      Susan L. Ostermann is Assistant Professor of Global Affairs at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. She completed her Ph.D. in the Travers Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. She also holds a law degree from Stanford Law School and worked for several years as a practicing litigator, focusing on class actions and intellectual property disputes.

      Employing both quantitative and qualitative methodology, Ostermann seeks to understand why we sometimes see compliance with regulations in very unlikely places: those in which the state is weak and actors, be they individuals or organizations, have strong incentives to break the law. Her dissertation develops the concept of regulatory pragmatism to explain variation in strategies used by both the Nepali and Indian states to secure compliance with conservation, education and child labor regulations under challenging conditions.

      While Professor Ostermann’s research focuses mainly on regulatory compliance in South Asia, she is broadly interested in understanding norms and how they change. Towards this end, she has published papers on inter-caste marriage and the role of skin color in Indian politics. Her current projects are designed to explore the historical roots of conservatism in Indian political thought, the development and expansion of the Indian Election Commission, and variation in sex-ratios throughout the subcontinent. She has also published work on the Indian bureaucracy, state capacity in South Asia, and the 2014 Indian general election.

      Ostermann’s work has been published in Asian Survey, Studies in Comparative International Development, the Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, Studies in Indian Politics and Law & Policy.

  4. Tanushree Goyal

    (Harvard University)

    Gender Quotas and Political Inclusion in India's Weakly Institutionalized Party System

    Friday, April 9, 2021, 11:00 AM, Via Zoom

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      Tanushree Goyal is a fourth and final year PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Goyal is also an academy scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. Starting in Fall 2022, she will join Princeton University as an Assistant Professor in Politics and International Affairs. Her research interests lie at the intersections of comparative politics, gender, and development with a regional focus in South Asia. Goyal's dissertation uses natural, survey and quasi-experiments to examine important questions in the field of representation and accountability and is set in the context of the World's largest democracy - India. It shows how female politicians affect change by influencing intra-party politics in the context of India's urban cities. Female politicians incorporate women as intermediaries and establish cross-electoral level networks to influence political campaigns and party decisions. This "representation from below" fundamentally alters party politics and democracy for good.