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.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta is President, Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. He is also a participant in the Global Faculty Program of NYU Law School. He was previously Visiting Professor of Government at Harvard University; Associate Professor of Government and of Social Studies at Harvard. He was also Professor of Philosophy and of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and has held a visting appointment at the University of Pennsylvania. His areas of research include, political theory, constitutional law, society and politics in India, governance and political economy and international affairs. Mehta has a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University (St. John’s College); and a Ph.D in Politics from Princeton University.
He has has also done extensive public policy work. He was Member-Convenor of the Prime Minister of India’s National Knowledge Commission; Member of the Supreme Court appointed on Regulating Indian Universities and has authored a number of papers and reports for leading Government of India and International Agencies, including the World Bank, UNRISD, DFID. He has advised a number of instituions in Higher Education. He is on the Board of Governors of International Development Research Council (IDRC), and numerous other academic institutions, including National Institute of Finance and Public Policy. He is also a member of the WEF’s Global Governance Council. He is a prolific columnist and editorial consultant to the Indian Express. His columns have also appearred in a number of national and international dailies including the Financial Times, Telegraph, International Herald Tribune, The Hindu, Outlook etc. He is also on the Editorial Board of numerous journals including the American Political Science Review, Journal of Democracy and India and Global Affairs.
Christophe Jaffrelot is Alliance Visiting Professor at Columbia University and Senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, a research centre he has directed from 2000 to 2008.
His main areas of interest are the theories of nationalism and democracy, the mobilization of the lower castes and Dalits in India, the Hindu nationalist movement and ethnic conflicts in Pakistan. He has written extensively on these topics. Among his publications, the most prominent are The Hindu nationalist movement and Indian politics, New York/Columbia University Press; Londres/Hurst; New Delhi/Penguin India, 1996, 582 p. , Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability. Analysing and Fighting Caste, New York/Columbia University Press; Londres/Hurst; New Delhi/Permanent Black, 2004, 205 p., India’s Silent Revolution – The Rise of the Low Castes in North India, New York/Columbia University Press; Londres/Hurst; New Delhi/Permanent Black, 2003, 505 p. as (co-)editor, with T. B. Hansen, The BJP and the compulsions of politics in India, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001, 393 p., A History of Pakistan and its origins, London, Anthem Press, 2004, 341 p., Pakistan : Nationalism Without a Nation, Delhi, Manohar ; Londres/New York, Zed Books, 2002, 352 p.,The Sangh Parivar. A reader, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2005, 445 p., with Alain Dieckhoff Revisiting nationalism. Theories and processes, Londres/ Hurst; New York/Palgrave, 2005, 277 p., Hindu nationalism. A reader, New Delhi/Permanent Black et Princeton (Nj)/ Princeton University Press, 2007, 391 p. , with P. van der Veer, Patterns of middle class consumption in China and India, New Delhi, Sage, 2008, 300 p. and with Laurent Gayer, Armed Militias of South Asia, London/Hurst, New York/Columbia University Press, New Delhi/Foundation Books, 2009 (forthcoming)
Christophe Jaffrelot is a Member of the editorial boards of Critique internationale, CEMOTI, Cultures et Conflits, Nations and nationalism, International Political Sociology, Third Frame and India Review and a Member of the scientific councils of Südasien Institut, Heidelberg, of Zentrum Moderner Orient / Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin, the Encyclopaedia of Mass Violence and of Sciences Po Master of Public Affairs.
He is a permanent Consultant at the “Direction de la Prospective” of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chairs the Scientific council of the six research centers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and CNRS in Asia.
He teaches two courses at Sciences Po (“Colonial India”, with Jacques Pouchepadass and “Democracy and nationalism in South Asia”), c-heads the summer school of the CERIUM (University of Montreal) on India and gives one course at Columbia this semester on “Democracy in India”.
Ashley J. Tellis is Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, specializing in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues. While on assignment to the US Department of State as Senior Adviser to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, he was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India. Previously he was commissioned into the Foreign Service and served as Senior Adviser to the Ambassador at the US Embassy in New Delhi. He also served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia.
Prior to his government service, Tellis was Senior Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation and Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School. He is the author of India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture (2001) and co-author of Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future (2000). He is the Research Director of the Strategic Asia program at NBR and co-editor of the six most recent annual volumes, including this year’s Strategic Asia 2009–10: Economic Meltdown and Geopolitical Stability. In addition to numerous Carnegie and RAND reports, his academic publications have appeared in many edited volumes and journals. He earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago. He also holds an MA in Political Science from the University of Chicago and both BA and MA degrees in Economics from the University of Bombay. Dr. Tellis is a member of several professional organizations related to defense and international studies including the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the United States Naval Institute and the Navy League of the United States.
A leading public intellectual in Sri Lanka, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Colombo. Alongside, he is Co-Convenor of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and Member of the Advisory Board of the Berghof Foundation for Peace Support. He was a founder Member of the Board of the Sri Lanka Chapter of Transparency International, and has also been on the World Bank’s External Panel to review its Post Conflict Performance Indicators. In 2004, he was an Eisenhower fellow in the United States.
He received his Ph.D. and bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).
Fotini Christia is Assistant Professor in Political Science at MIT. She completed her PhD in Public Policy at Harvard University in June 2008, where she was a recipient of research fellowships from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Her research interests deal with issues of ethnicity and civil wars and her dissertation addresses the question of civil war alliances. Fotini has published work on the role of local elites in civil wars in Comparative Politics, and is presently working on two field projects of an experimental design, one in Afghanistan and one in Bosnia, that address the effects of institutions of cooperation in post-conflict, multi-ethnic societies. Fotini has also worked in the Middle East and Central Asia and has written opinion pieces on her experiences from Afghanistan, Iran, the West Bank and Gaza and Uzbekistan for Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. She graduated magna cum laude with a joint BA in Economics-Operations Research from Columbia College and a Masters in International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.