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 Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia atWatson 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.
Friday, February 3, 2017, 2:00 PM, Brown University, Watson Institute, McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer St
111 Thayer St, Providence, RI
Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute
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Pavithra Suryanarayan is an assistant professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins. Suryanarayan specializes in the comparative politics of developing countries with a focus on inequality, fiscal capacity, ethnic politics, and Indian politics; as well as political methodology with a focus on multilevel statistical techniques. My dissertation and journal articles demonstrate how different forms of inequality — economic, ethnic, social — structure political behavior, and impact redistributive institutions. She has been published in World Politics, American Journal of Political Science, Party Politics and Asian Survey
Friday, February 17, 2017, 2:00 PM, MIT, Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495, 1 Amherst Street Cambridge
1 Amherst Street Cambridge, MA
Lucian Pye Conference Room, E40-495
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George Perkovich is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He works primarily on nuclear strategy and nonproliferation issues, and on South Asian security. Toby Dalton is co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment. An expert on nonproliferation and nuclear energy, his work addresses regional security challenges and the evolution of the global nuclear order. Perkovich and Dalton co-wrote Not War, Not Peace: Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism, A comprehensive assessment of the violent and non-violent options available to India to deter and respond to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. The book discusses The Mumbai blasts of 1993, the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, Mumbai 26/11- cross-border terrorism has continued unabated. What can India do to motivate Pakistan to do more to prevent such attacks? In the nuclear times that we live in, where a military counter-attack could escalate to destruction beyond imagination, overt warfare is clearly not an option.
Friday, March 10, 2017, 2:00 PM, K262, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street
Room K262, CGIS Knafel, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Emmerich Davies Escobar is an Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University. Emmerich Davies specializes in education policy and politics, the political economy of development, and the politics of service provision, with a regional focus on South Asia. His dissertation, for which he was awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, examines the growth of private elementary education in India and the consequences of using private rather than public schools on individuals' beliefs and civic engagement. Davies earned his B.A. in Economics and Political Science with honors from Stanford University in 2007, worked for two years for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab in Kolkata, India, and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania.
Friday, April 7, 2017, 2:00 PM, S153 , CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street
Room S153, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street, MA
Yusuf Neggers is a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. He received a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University, and also holds an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics and a BA in Mathematical Economic Analysis from Rice University. His research examines questions at the intersection of development economics and political economy, with a particular focus on the connections between political and bureaucratic accountability and the quality of public services.