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.
Stephen Cohen joined the Brookings Institution as Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies in 1998 after a career as a professor of Political Science and History at the University of Illinois. In 2004 he was named by the World Affairs Councils of America as one of America’s five hundred most influential people in the area of foreign policy.
Dr. Cohen is the author, co-author or editor of over twelve books, mostly on South Asian security issues, the most recent being Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization (2010) with Sunil Dasgupta, Four Crises and a Peace Process: American Engagement in South Asia (2007) and The Idea of Pakistan (2004), and an edited volume published by the National Academy of Science that explores the application of technology to the prediction, prevention or amelioration of terrorist acts.
In early 2008 Dr. Cohen was Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, where he taught a course on the politics of manmade and natural disaster. In Asia he has also taught in Japan (Keio University) and India (Andhra University). He has consulted for numerous foundations and government agencies and was a member of the Policy Planning Staff (Department of State) from 1985-87. Dr. Cohen is currently a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on International Security and Arms Control, and was the founder of several arms control and security-related institutions in the U.S. and South Asia. He received undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Chicago, and the PhD in Political Science and Indian Studies from the University of Wisconsin.(CSIS, Washington DC January 2009).
Pradeep Chhibber is a Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, in addition to serving as the Director of the Institute of International Studies. He is currently pursuing two current research projects. The first focuses on the influence of religious practice on perceptions of political representation. The second examines governance from the perspective of the citizen. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA, and his M.A. and M.Phil. from the University of Delhi. He holds the Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies and the Class of 1959 Chair at UC Berkeley campus.
His publications include: The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Britain, Canada, India, and the U.S. with Ken Kollman, 2004 (Winner of the 2005 Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award & Runner up for the 2005 Gregory Luebbert Book Award) and Democracy without Associations: Transformation of Party Systems and Social Cleavages in India, 1999.
This talk will be given at the Watson Institute at Brown University
111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
Joukowsky Forum, Room 155
Click here for a map and directions.
Najam Sethi, 63, was educated at Government College, Lahore and Cambridge University UK. He is Pakistan’s most decorated journalist. Newsweek magazine called him “a crusading editor” for his campaigns against corruption in government in the 1990s, for which he was imprisoned in 1999 by the Nawaz Sharif government and set free by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. As an “equal opportunity offender”, he braved imprisonment during the regimes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. He also has three international press freedom awards to his credit for courage in journalism: Golden Pen Award 2009 from the World Editor’s Forum and World Association of Newspapers; Courage in Journalism Award 1999 from the Committee to Protect Journalists, New York; and Press Freedom Award 1999 from Amnesty International, UK.
He is the Founder Editor-in-Chief of the The Friday Times, Pakistan’s most outspoken secular liberal weekly paper and the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Daily Times and Daily Aajkal, from 2001-2009, both national secular liberal papers. He is currently Editor-in-Chief/Executive Director of Dunya TV, a national news broadcasting network, where he appears thrice weekly as a political commentator. For many years he wrote the Pakistan report in The Economist Intelligence Unit and still remains the Pakistan Correspondent of The Economist, London.
He writes op-ed articles for world newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, The Independent, UK, and various Indian and European papers and is a regular media commentator on top TV and Radio channels of India and Pakistan, including BBC; NPR, NDTV, CNN, etc.
Atul Kohli is the David K.E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. His principal research interests are in the areas of comparative political economy with a focus on the developing countries.
He is the author of State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery (winner of the Charles Levine Award (2005) of the International Political Science Association); Democracy and Discontent: India’s Growing Crisis of Governability; The State and Poverty in India; and the editor of six volumes: The State and Development in the Third World; India’s Democracy; State Power and Social Forces; Community Conflicts and the State in India; The Success of India’s Democracy; States, Markets and Just Growth. He has also published some fifty articles. His current research focuses on the topic of “imperialism and the developing world.” He is the Chief Editor of World Politics. He has received grants and fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation and Russell Sage Foundation. Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley.
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