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 Toronto)
Friday, September 12, 2014, 2:00 PM, MIT Center for International Studies, Lucian Pye Conference Room
Shivaji Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Politics at University of Toronto, Mississauga. Shivaji’s research interests lie at the intersection of state formation, civil conflict, and political economy of development. He worked as a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, and then did an MA in Political Science at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a PhD in political science at Yale University.
His dissertation is on the Maoist insurgency in India, and uses data gathered during field work, archival data and quantitative analysis of sub national datasets to demonstrate that colonial institutions of indirect rule selected by the British set up the structural conditions for post colonial insurgency through path dependent mechanisms. Shivaji hopes to work in the future on state formation, the use of different kinds of counter insurgency strategy by the Indian state, and also various aspects of the Maoist insurgency, and other ethnic insurgencies in India.
Friday, October 3, 2014, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room
111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
McKinney Conference Room
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Akshay Mangla is an Assistant Professor in the Business, Government and International Economy Unit at Harvard University. Mangla’s primary expertise lies in the political economy of development, with a regional focus on South Asia. His current research examines the governance of public services in rural India, particularly in the education sector. In addition, he has conducted research on private initiatives to enforce labor standards in global supply chains. He is a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the South Asia Institute at Harvard.
Professor Mangla received his Ph.D. in Political Science from M.I.T. He holds a M.Sc. in Management Research from the University of Oxford, and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a B.S. in Finance and B.A. in Philosophy. His research has been supported by the American Institute of Indian Studies and the National Security Education Program’s David L. Boren Fellowship. He has published a variety of journal articles, including Virtue out of Necessity?: Compliance, Commitment and the Improvement of Labor Conditions in Global Supply Chains, Politics & Society (2009).
(University of Washington)
Friday, November 7, 2014, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum
111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
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Sunila Kale is an Assistant Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Her research, writing, and teaching focus on Indian politics and political economy of development.
All of her research so far has focused on India. She is particularly interested in how and why politics and development differ by region and state within India. Kale’s first book, Electrifying India (2014), compares the politics of electrification in the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh. In 2013, Kale won the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences from the American Institute of Indian Studies, which is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about India and the promotion of intellectual engagement with India in the United States. Kale received her Ph.D in Government from the University of Texas, Austin.
Friday, November 21, 2014, 2:00 PM, Harvard, Weatherhead Center, Room S020
This talk will be given at the Weatherhead Center at
CGIS Knafel Building
1737 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA
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Jairam Ramesh, a senior leader of the Indian National Congress party, is an Indian economist and politician. Since June 2004, Ramesh has been a member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha – the upper house of the Parliament of India – from the state of Andhra Pradesh. As an economist, he was entrusted with several crucial roles as an advisor to the Finance Minister (1996-98) and also to the Prime Minister (1991). With a special interest in China, Ramesh is the Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, since 2002. Jairam Ramesh was also a member of the National Advisory Council that is chaired by Sonia Gandhi.
Ramesh has served in various ministries during his career, specifically, he was Union Minister of Rural Development (2001-2014), including the new Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Minister of State (Independent Charge) Environment and Forests (2009-2011), Minister of State of Power and Commerce (2008-2009) and Minister of State of Commerce (2006-2009). In previous years he has also held the position as member of the Ministry of Finance, the Committee on Government Assurance, the Committee on Public Accounts, and the Court of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has worked in the Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Industry, Planning Commission, Advisory Board on Energy and other government departments at senior levels during 1980-1998.
Associated with various education institutions in India and abroad, Ramesh has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the IIT, Bombay, where he completed his B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering. Ramesh has been a founding member of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He received a master of science in public management at the Heinz College at Carnegie-Mellon University, USA, and has also studied technology policy at MIT. Ramesh has also worked in journalism, and has been a columnist for Business Standard, Business Today, The Telegraph, Times of India and India Today. He is also the author of the book Making Sense of Chindia (2005), which describes the forces of globalization and liberalization.