` The South Asian Politics Seminar by Brown, Harvard and MIT

Joint Sem­i­nar on South Asian Pol­i­tics co-sponsored by the Brown-India Initiative at the Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown Uni­ver­sity, the Weath­er­head Cen­ter for Inter­na­tional Affairs and 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 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.

Orga­niz­ing committee:

Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

Patrick Heller (Brown)
Pre­rna Singh (Brown)
Akshay Mangla (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

  1. 2019 Indian Elections Panel

    Pradeep Chhibber, Sarah Khan, Prerna Singh, Milan Vaishanv, and Ashutosh Varshney

    Friday, September 6, 2019, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St

    • 2019 Indian Elections PanelHomepage

      This talk will be given at Brown Univeristy Campus

      111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
      Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute

      Click here for a map and directions.

      India’s 17th national elections, which recorded the highest turnout since independence, returned Narendra Modiand the BJP to power with an enhanced majority. What are the implications? The panelists debate.

      Pradeep Chhibber is a Professor and Indo-American Chair in Indian Studies at the Institute for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He studies party systems, party aggregation, and the politics of India. His research examines the relationship between social divisions and party competition and conditions that lead to the emergence of national or regional parties in a nation-state.

      Sarah Khan is Lecturer of Political Science at Yale. She researches gender and comparative politics, with a regional specialization in South Asia. In her work, she studies gender gaps in political preferences, and the barriers to women’s political participation and representation.

      Prerna Singh is Mahatma Gandhi Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University. Singh’s research focuses on the improvement of human well-being, particularly as it relates to the promotion of social welfare on the one hand, and to the mitigation of ethnic conflict and competition, on the other.

      Milan Vaishnav is a senior fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. His primary research focus is the political economy of India.

      Ashutosh Varshney is Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, where he also directs the Center for Contemporary South Asia. His research and teaching cover three areas: Ethnicity and Nationalism; Political Economy of Development; and South Asian Politics and Political Economy.

  2. Sushant Singh

    (Indian Express)

    India's Emerging National Security Challenges

    Friday, October 4, 2019, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge MA

    • Sushant SinghHomepage

      This talk will be given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

      MIT, 1 Amherst St, Cambridge MA
      Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496,

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Sushant Singh is the Deputy Editor of The Indian Express newspaper in Delhi, who has reported extensively on national security issues in India. He had earlier served with the Indian Army for 20 years, which included multiple stints in Kashmir. He is currently a Lecturer at Yale for the Fall term, where he is teaching a class on India's National Security.

  3. Ahsan Butt

    (George Mason University)

    Secession and Security in South Asia

    October 25, 2019, 2:00pm, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-496, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge

    • Ahsan Butt Homepage

      This talk will be given at MIT

      Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Ahsan I. Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. His main research interests lie in nationalism, political violence, and South Asia. His book, Secession and Security: Explaining State Strategy Against Separatists, was published by Cornell University Press in 2017 and won the 2019 International Studies Association award for best book in International Security. His work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as International Organization, Journal of Global Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, Politics and Religion, and Security Studies, and has received generous support from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Mellon Foundation, the Stanton Foundation, and the United States Institute of Peace.

  4. Rachel Brule

    (Yale MacMillan Center)

    Property, Power, and Women: Positive and Perverse Consequences of Indian Reforms for Gender Equality

    Friday, November 8, 2019, 2:30 PM, Harvard University, CGIS S153, 1730 Cambridge Street

    • Racehl Brule Homepage

      This talk will be given at Harvard University

      1730 Cambridge Street Cambridge, MA
      CGIS S153

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Can political representation help women upend entrenched systems of power? Property and Power, forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, finds evidence that quotas improve women’s ability to claim fundamental economic rights. Yet greater voice is costly. Whether women experience benefits or backlash depends on individual bargaining power at the time a woman is elected.

      Rachel Brulé is an Assistant Professor of Global Development Policy at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, where she is a tenure-track faculty member. She is also a member of the Empirical Gender Research Network (E-GEN) and a Research Affiliate with NYU’s Global TIES for Children. She specializes in comparative politics with a substantive focus on gender, South Asia, political economy, and institutions. Her research combines careful causal identification with innovative theory building to understand why equity-promoting reforms have unintended consequences that may deepen inequality.

      A series of forthcoming publications captures the impact of reforms expanding rights to a crucial good – land – in the world’s largest democracy: India. Her articles have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Politics and the Journal of Development Economics, and her first book manuscript, titled Women’s Representation and Resistance: Positive and Perverse Consequences of Indian Reforms for Gender Equality, is under contract with Cambridge University Press. In her book, she finds a paradoxical outcome of quotas improving women’s political voice: while representation ensures enforcement of women’s new economic rights, it also mobilizes backlash against them. A recent news article about her research can be found here.

  5. Thibaud Marcesse

    (Boston College)

    Patronage Guaranteed? The Local Politics of the Right to Work. Public Policy Reform, Citizenship and Patronage in Rural India

    Friday, November 22, 2019, 2:00pm, Brown Univeristy, Leung Conference Room, Watson Institute, 280 Brook St

    • Thibaud Marcesse Homepage

      This talk will be given at Brown University

      Leung Conference Room, Watson Institute, 280 Brook St

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Thibaud Marcesse is Assistant Professor of Comparative and South Asian Politics at Boston College. He received his Ph.D. in Government at Cornell University in 2018.

      His research investigates the impact of institutional change in the field of poverty alleviation on the strategies pursued by political parties in rural India. In his dissertation, he focused specifically on the Right to Work Legislation that has been enforced in India since 2005, and its translation into public policy, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or NREGS. His field work has led him to explore the distortions to policy implementation, and what these distortions tell us about the way political entrepreneurs attempt to capture public resources for political benefit.

      Marcesse's broader research interests include the political economy of development, institutions, political parties, ethnicity and the politics of foreign aid. His research has been published in World Development.