` 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:

Chair:
Ashutosh Varsh­ney (Brown)

Co-Directors:
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. Ambassador Nirupama Rao

    (Former Foreign Secretary of India)

    The Fractured Himalaya: India China Tibet 1949-62

    Friday, February 11, 2021, 10:00 AM, Via Zoom

    • Nirupama RaoHomepage

      This talk will be held on Zoom.

      Register to join the webinar.

      Join MIT security expert Vipin Narang to discuss Nirupama Rao's recent book, The Fractured Himalaya: India China Tibet 1949-62. A deep dive into understanding India-China relations, the book examines how the past shadows the present in this relationship and shapes current policy options, strongly influencing public debate in India to this day.

      Nirupama Rao, a former Foreign Secretary of India, unknots this intensely complex saga of the early years of the India-China relationship. As a diplomat-practitioner, Rao’s telling is based not only on archival material from India, China, Britain and the United States, but also on a deep personal knowledge of China, where she served as India’s Ambassador. In addition, she brings a practitioner’s keen eye to the labyrinth of negotiations and official interactions that took place between the two countries from 1949 to 1962 to ellucidate why it is necessary to understand the trans-Himalayan power play of India and China in the formative period of their nationhoods. Born in Kerala, India, Nirupama Rao, joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973. During her four-decade-long diplomatic career she held several important assignments. She was India’s first woman spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, the first woman high commissioner from her country to Sri Lanka, and the first Indian woman ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. She served as India’s Foreign Secretary from 2009-2011. At the end of that term, she was appointed India’s Ambassador to the United States where she served for a term of two years from 2011-2013. On her retirement from active diplomatic service, Ambassador Rao entered the world of academics with an appointment as Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellow at the India Initiative at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Ms. Rao has continued to pursue her academic interests and taught an undergraduate seminar at Brown University titled "India in the World" in 2015 and 2016.

  2. Neelanjan Sircar

    Centre for Policy Research

    Colossus: The Anatomy of Delhi

    Friday, March 4, 2022, 12:00PM, Via Zoom

    • Neelanjan SircarHomepage

      This talk will be held on Zoom.

      Register to join the webinar.

      Neelanjan Sircar is a Senior Visiting Fellow at CPR and Assistant Professor at Ashoka University. His research interests include Indian political economy and comparative political behavior with an eye to Bayesian statistics, causal inference, social network analysis, and game theory. Mr Sircar’s recent work focused on state level elections in India through both data work and ethnographic methods. He is particularly interested in understanding theoretic principles that undergird the decision-making processes of voters in India, which can shed light on democratic practice in the developing world more generally. He also works on projects characterising the social connections between citizens in India and their local brokers and leaders, as well as how these local brokers and leaders, both rural and urban, make decisions.

      Sircar is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. He received a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics and economics from UC Berkeley in 2003 and a PhD in political science from Columbia University in 2014.

  3. Sanjoy Bhattacharya

    (University of York)

    Smallpox Eradication: A racially inclusive history

    Friday, March 25, 2022, 12:00 PM, Via Zoom

    • Sanjoy BhattacharyaHomepage

      This talk will be held on Zoom.

      Register to join the webinar.

      Sanjoy Bhattacharya is Co-Director of the History Department’s Centre for Global Health Histories, Professor in the History of Medicine, a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and the Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories at the University of York. Sanjoy specialises in the health, medical, political and social history of nineteenth and twentieth century South Asia, as well as the history and contemporary workings of international and global health organisations, and their programmes around the world.

      Sanjoy has always worked in inter-disciplinary ways and within inter-sectoral settings, and remains actively involved in health policy research and evaluation work in national and international agencies. He is a co-founder of the World Health Organization’s Global Health Histories project (GHH), which works across the WHO HQ in Geneva, WHO Regional Offices in Copenhagen and Cairo, and multiple WHO Country Offices. As an official and audited WHO activity, GHH carries out research to assist policy initiatives and public engagement at WHO member state level, and organises a regular programme of seminars and workshops. This work, carried out over two decades, has consistently created impactful partnerships globally, involving WHO frameworks, other UN agencies, national and local governments, NGOs, Civil Society Organisations and universities.

  4. Nikhar Gaikwad

    (Columbia University)

    TBD

    Friday, May 6, 2022, 12:00 PM, Via Zoom

    • Nikhar GaikwadHomepage

      This talk will be held on Zoom.

      Register to join the webinar.
      Nikhar Gaikwad is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and a member of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. He specializes in international and comparative political economy, with a focus on the politics of economic policymaking, business-state relations, and identity. Substantively, he works on trade, migration, and environmental policymaking. He has a regional specialization in India, which he studies in comparative perspective with other democratic emerging economies.

      Prior to joining Columbia University, he was a Fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University. He received his PhD, with departmental and university distinction, in political science from Yale University, and BA, magna cum laude, in economics and political science (honors) from Williams College.

      Gaikwad’s research focuses on two types of competition that recur in the political arena: economic contestation and identity conflict. A main line of inquiry studies how cultural divisions interact with economic rivalries when actors contest distributive policies. A second stream of work investigates how conflicts of interest between economic agents influence the policymaking process. He analyzes competing interests as a theoretical lens to study questions related to representation, policy change, and development.