Joint Sem­i­nar on South Asian Pol­i­tics co-sponsored by the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown Uni­ver­sity, the Weath­er­head Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Affairs and the 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 Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia atWat­son 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:

Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

Patrick Heller (Brown)
Pre­rna Singh (Brown)
Emmerich Davies (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

    • scohen-sHomepage

      This talk will be given at the MIT Center for International Studies

      1 Amherst Street     Cambridge, MA
      The Lucian Pye Room (E40-496)

      Click here and here for a map and directions.

      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).

    • chhibber-sHomepage

      This talk will be given at the Weatherhead Center at Harvard University

      CGIS Knafel Building
      1737 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA
      Room K354

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      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.

    • Najam_Sethi

      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.

    • kohli


      This talk will be given at the Weatherhead Center at Harvard University

      CGIS Knafel Building
      1737 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA
      Room K401

      Click here for a map and directions.

      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.

      download chapters (pdf):

      Want amid Plenty – Introduction | Want amid Plenty – Chapter III