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. Pradeep Chhibber

    (University of California, Berkeley)

    Religious Practice and Democracy in India

    Friday, February 6, 2015, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, Joukowsky Forum

    • Pradeep ChhibberHomepage

      This talk will be given at the Watson Institute at Brown University

      111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
      Joukowsky Forum

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Pradeep Chhibber is professor of political science at UC Berkeley, where he directs the Institute of International Studies. He is also the Indo-American Community Chair in India Studies. Chhibber 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. Chhibber has previously written about the influence of caste and religion in twenty-first century politics in India. His work also addresses the influence of party politics and party systems on state policy and the delivery of public goods, and the gendered nature of representation in electoral politics in India.

      He is the author of Religious Practice and Democracy in India (Cambridge University Press, 2014, with Sandeep Shastri), The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Britain, Canada, India, and the U.S. (Princeton University Press, 2004, with Ken Kollman), and Democracy without Associations: Transformation of Party Systems and Social Cleavages in India (University of Michigan Press, 1999). He received an M.A. and an M.Phil. from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. from UCLA.

  2. Amit Ahuja

    (University of California, Santa Barbara)

    Soldier, God, and the State: Religion in the Armies of India and Pakistan

    Friday, February 27, 2015, 2:00 PM, MIT Center for International Studies, Room E40-464

    • Amit Ahuja Homepage

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

      1 Amherst Street     Cambridge, MA
      Room (E40-464)

      Click here and here for a map and directions.

      Amit Abuja is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His research concentrates on the processes of inclusion and exclusion in multiethnic societies, studied within the context of ethnic parties and movements, military organization, and inter-caste marriage in South Asia. He focuses on the politics of marginalized minorities—those who have been left out of social, political, and economic progress by virtue of their racial and ethnic characteristics, as well as their economic and religious status.

      He has completed one book manuscript, Mobilizing Marginalized Citizens: Ethnic Parties and Ethnic Movements, and has a second book-length project currently in development called Building National Armies in Multiethnic States.

  3. Milan Vaishnav

    (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

    Understanding the Changing Indian Voter

    Friday, March 13, 2015, 2:00 PM, Harvard, CGIS Knafel (North), Room K354

    • Milan Vaishnav Homepage

      This talk will be given at the CGIS Knafel Building (North) at Harvard University

      CGIS Knafel Building (North)
      1737 Cambridge St. Cambridge, MA
      Room K354

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.

      One of his ongoing major projects examines the causes and consequences of political corruption in India with an emphasis on representation and quality of political leadership, connections between the state and private capital, and the management and exploitation of natural resources. He also works on development policy as well as issues of governance in developing countries and their relation to democratic accountability.

      He is the co-editor of the book Short of the Goal: U.S. Policy and Poorly Performing States (Center for Global Development, 2006). His work has also been published in the Latin American Research Review. Previously, he worked at the Center for Global Development, where he served as a postdoctoral research fellow, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He has taught at Columbia, Georgetown, and George Washington Universities.

  4. Chandan Gowda

    (Azim Premji University)

    The Origins of the Developmental State: Colonialism and the Politics of Knowledge in India

    Friday, April 17, 2015, 2:00 PM, Brown, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room

    • Chandan Gowda Homepage

      This talk will be given at the Watson Institute at Brown University

      111 Thayer Street Providence, RI
      McKinney Conference Room

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Chandan Gowda is a Professor of Sociology at Azim Premji University in Karnataka, India. Gowda worked as Associate Professor of Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bangalore, after earning his Ph.D. degree at the Department of Sociology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2007. He obtained an M.A. degree in sociology from the University of Hyderabad in 1996 and a Ph.D. Certificate in Cultural Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in 1998.

      Gowda's research interests include social theory, Indian normative traditions, caste, and Kannada literature and cinema. In addition to his academic publications, he has written for newspapers and published translations of Kannada fiction and non-fiction in English. Before moving to APU, he was Associate Professor of Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion, National Law School of India, Bengaluru, between 2008 and 2011. He is presently completing a book on the cultural politics of development in old Mysore state.

  5. Ambassador Shivshankar Menon

    (Fisher Family Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School; Former National Security Adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; Former Indian Foreign Secretary)

    India's National Security Calculus

    Friday, April 24, 2015, 2:00 PM, Harvard Faculty Club, Theatre Room

    • Ambassador Shivshankar Menon

      This talk will be given at the Harvard Faculty Club at Harvard University

      Harvard Faculty Club
      20 Quincy St.
      Cambridge, MA
      Theatre Room

      Click here for a map and directions.

      Ambassador Shivshankar Menon is India’s former National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (January 2010-May 2014) and Foreign Secretary (2006-2009). He also served as India’s ambassador to China and Israel, as well as high commissioner to Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Prior to that he was Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, and in China, Sri Lanka and Israel as ambassador and diplomat. Menon started his career in 1972 with the Indian Foreign Service.

      He served the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) as Advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission. This work continued through his posting in Vienna. He was then posted to Beijing, the first of three positions he served in China. His last position in China as ambassador was also significant as it marked improvement in Sino-India relations, the high point being the visit of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Menon has also served as Ambassador to Israel and High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He was appointed Foreign Secretary in 2006, and was the National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He relinquished office as National Security Adviser on 15 May 2014.