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.
Steven I. Wilkinson is Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs. He is currently working on a book on colonial legacies for democracy and conflict, as well as co-authoring a series of papers on the dynamics of partition violence in India and elsewhere.
Much of his work focuses on India and ethnic violence. His book, Votes and Violence: electoral competition and ethnic riots in India (Cambridge, 2004) was co-winner of APSA’s Woodrow Wilson prize for the best book published in government, politics and international affairs in the previous year. He has also edited, with his former colleague Herbert Kitschelt, a book on clientelism entitled Patrons, Clients or Politics: Patterns of Political Accountability and Competition (Cambridge, 2007). He plans to extend his work on clientelism and the prospects for reform in a future project on state capacity in India and elsewhere.
He received his undergraduate degree in History from the University of Edinburgh and an A.M. in History from Duke before getting his Ph.D. in Political Science from M.I.T. He taught previously at Duke and at the University of Chicago.
Lant Pritchett is currently Professor of the Practice of International Development and Faculty Chair of the Masters in Public Policy in International Development (MPA/ID) program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Prior to returning the the Kennedy School, he was lead Socio-Economist in the Social Development group of the South Asia region of the World Bank, resident in Delhi, 2004-2007.
He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1983 with a
B.S. in Economics and in 1988 from MIT with a PhD in
After leaving MIT Lant joined the World Bank, where has has held a number of positions in research complex, including as an adviser to Lawrence Summers when he was Vice President, and in the World Bank’s Operations in Indonesia and in India. From 2000 to 2004 Lant was a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Lant’s career as a economic researcher and development practitioner has produced three kinds of outputs. He has been a co-author and team member in producing books by the World Bank, including two World Development Reports (Infrastructure in 1994, and Making Services World for Poor People in 2004), Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t and Why in 1998, Better Health Systems fro India’s Poor: Findings, Analysis, and Options in 2003, and most recently Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reforms in 2005.
In addition he has authored (alone or with one of his 22 co-authors) over 50 individually signed papers in refereed journals, chapters in books, or articles, as least some of which are widely cited and he was (inordinately) pleased when his Google count (easy to do when one’s name is unique) passed 10,000. He has published widely in economics journals and in specialized journals on demography, education, and health.
Finally, he has been engaged in policy dialogue and projects with governments and civil society around the world, both with the World Bank and as a consultant while at Harvard.
Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, where she directs the Pakistan Study Group.
She was born and brought up in Karachi, Pakistan, where she also received much of her education. After an MA in Political Science from the University of Karachi, she left Pakistan to pursue her studies at Columbia University in New York, where she was awarded a Ph.D in Political Science. Soon after she was elected to a Research Fellowship in Politics at Clare Hall Cambridge. Since then she has lectured at universities in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and most recently was named a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She is a frequent commentator on current affairs in Pakistan for the media in Britain and abroad and continues to write extensively on the history and politics of Muslim South Asia. She is the author of Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim representation in colonial India, 1860-1947 (Cambridge University Press, 1989). Her new book, Making Sense of Pakistan (Columbia University Press), was published in June 2009.
Thad Dunning is Associate Professor of Political Science and a research fellow at Yale’s Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies as well as the Institution for Social and Policy Studies. He studies comparative politics, political economy, and methodology. His book, Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and Political Regimes (2008, Cambridge University Press), contrasts the democratic and authoritarian effects of natural resource wealth. His current work on ethnic and other cleavages draws on field and natural experiments and qualitative fieldwork in Latin America, India, and Africa. Dunning has written on a range of methodological topics, including econometric corrections for selection effects and the use of natural experiments in the social sciences. His work has appeared in Comparative Political Studies, International Organization, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Political Analysis, Studies in Comparative International Development, and other journals. He received a Ph.D. degree in political science and an M.A. degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley (2006).
Shuja Nawaz was made the first Director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council of the United States in January 2009. He is a native of Pakistan, and is a political and strategic analyst who writes for leading newspapers and The Huffington Post, and speaks on current topics before civic groups, at think tanks, and on radio and television. He has worked on projects with RAND, the United States Institute of Peace, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Atlantic Council, and other leading think tanks on projects dealing with Pakistan and the Middle East. He has also briefed senior European and US civil and military officials on Afghanistan and Pakistan and testified before both houses of the US Congress.
He was a newscaster and producer for Pakistan Television and covered the 1971 war with India on the Western Front. He has worked for the World Health Organization and has headed three separate divisions at the International Monetary Fund. He was also a Director at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Mr. Nawaz was the Managing Editor and then Editor of Finance & Development, the multilingual quarterly of the IMF and the World Bank and on the Editorial Advisory Board of the World Bank Research Observer.
His latest book is Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford University Press 2008). He is also the author of FATA: A Most Dangerous Place (CSIS, Washington DC January 2009).