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.
Kanchan Chandra is Professor in the Department of Politics at New York University. She joined the NYU faculty in 2005 after four years on the faculty of the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Since earning her Ph.D. in government at Harvard University (2000), she has established herself as a leader in her field and an innovative and energetic researcher. Her first book, Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Headcounts in India (Cambridge UP, 2004), was hailed as a landmark study, combining theory and empirical analysis to examine why people choose to vote on the basis of one ethnic identity when alternatives are available, and the effects of that choice. A second book, Constructivist Theories of Politics, is forthcoming in 2012 by Oxford University Press. This book develops a new conceptual framework for thinking about how ethnic identities change and incorporates that framework into theorie of politics and economics. themes introduced in this book have also informed many of her articles, including “Cumulative Findings in the Study of Ethnic Politics,” APSA-CP, 12, No. 1 (2001); “Ethnic Parties and Democratic Stability,” Perspectives on Politics, 3, No. 2 (2005); and “What is Ethnic Identity and Does it Matter?” Annual Review of Political Science, 9 (2006). During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she will be working on her next book, on the subject of ethnic diversity and democracy.
Ms. Chandra’s many honors include Fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation, and her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the United States Institute of Peace.
Feminist movements, gender studies, sectarian violence, Medical Anthropology, post-Colonial and post-Structural theory; South Asia, Europe
Summary of Research Activities: The abiding concerns of my research have been to understand the working of long time cultural logics in contemporary events as well as moments of rupture and recovery. My first book showed how one may address this through an examination of texts produced in local communities in which myth and history were embedded in each other. I have often learnt from ancient, medieval and contemporary texts in Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and Urdu either by posing these as interlocutors to some contemporary anthropological concerns or taking their voices on lease in order to traverse a different genealogy of the problem.
In recent years I have worked intensively on questions of violence, social suffering. and subjectivity. My interest in these questions stems from questions on the institutional processes through which violence and suffering are produced as well as from questions on what it is to produce testimony to these events and to oneself. If societies hide from themselves the pain which is inflicted upon individuals as prices of belonging, then how do social sciences learn to receive this knowledge? I have tried to see the intricate relations between biography, autobiography and ethnography to frame many of these questions.
Currently I am working on a project on burden of disease and health seeking behavior among the urban poor in Delhi. This work is being done in collaboration with colleagues from the disciplines of Economics and the Health Sciences in addition to anthropologists and sociologists. The collaborating institution in Delhi is the Institute of Socio-Economic Research in Development and Democracy. Presently we are trying to create a panel data for 250 households which tracks the relation between local ecology, health and family processes of decision making.
Miriam Golden is Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she teaches comparative politics, and for the 2011-12 academic year Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Golden’s research interests center on problems of political accountability. She is working on a large project that compares the electoral underpinnings of political corruption in poor and wealthy democracies. Her work on this topic has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, World Politics, Economics & Politics, the British Journal of Political Science, and Comparative Political Studies. Between 1995 and 2000, she served as the Editor of the Newsletter of the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Organized Section in Comparative Politics, and between 2000 and 2004, she was the Founding Director of the Center for Comparative and Global Research, housed in UCLA’s International Institute. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the International Growth Centre, and the Governments of Quebec and Canada.
T.V. PAUL is Director (Founding) of the McGill University/Université de Montreal Centre for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS) and James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, where he has been teaching since 1991. Paul specializes in International Relations, especially international security, regional security and South Asia. He received his undergraduate education from Kerala University, India; M.Phil in International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Paul is the author or editor of 13 books. He has also published over 45 journal articles and book chapters and has lectured at universities and research institutions internationally. His authored books are: Globalization and the National Security State (with Norrin Ripsman), (Oxford University Press, 2010); The Tradition of Non-use of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford University Press, 2009); India in the World Order: Searching for Major Power Status (Cambridge University Press, 2002, with Baldev Nayar); Power versus Prudence: Why Nations Forgo Nuclear Weapons (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000); and Asymmetric Conflicts: War Initiation by Weaker Powers (Cambridge University Press, 1994). Paul is the editor or co-editor of the volumes: International Relations Theory and Regional Transformation (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, 2012); South Asia’s Weak States: Understanding the Regional Insecurity Predicament (Stanford University Press, 2010); Complex Deterrence: Strategy In the Global Age (with Patrick M. Morgan and James J. Wirtz, University of Chicago Press, 2009); The India-Pakistan Conflict: An Enduring Rivalry (Cambridge University Press, 2005); Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century (with James Wirtz and Michel Fortmann, Stanford University Press, 2004); The Nation-State in Question (with G. John Ikenberry and John A. Hall, Princeton University Press, 2003); International Order and the Future of World Politics (with John A. Hall, Cambridge University Press, 1999, 2000 (twice), 2001, 2002 & 2003); and The Absolute Weapon Revisited: Nuclear Arms and the Emerging International Order (with Richard Harknett and James Wirtz, University of Michigan Press, 1998 & 2000). He serves as the editor of the Georgetown University Press book series: South Asia in World Affairs.