Category Archives: Economics

South Asia Week: Celebrating a multitude of perspectives

The newly elected president of the Tufts Association of South Asians (TASA), Arvind Krishnamurthy, recently pointed out something interesting about the South Asian community at Tufts in his election speech: that it’s not homogenous. Most of us would be able to relate to his experience at Tufts, of having been “exposed to South Asians from a multitude of backgrounds,” each bringing their own perspective, but more importantly their own interests. Here at Tufts there are students who are interested in different aspects of South Asia, ranging from culture to politics to specific countries in the region. Whether it’s SAPAC, the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) or the Hindu Students Council (HSC) students have brought their own interests to promote an understanding of South Asia in different ways. It is this myriad of diverse perspectives and backgrounds that makes up our ‘South Asian community’ here at Tufts. But in order to have a holistic understanding of the region, it is important to learn about “different cultures amongst ourselves,” which Arvind also pointed out in his speech.

Here at SAPAC we have decided to embrace this philosophy, and bring our South Asian communities together so we can celebrate this multitude of perspectives. For the first time at Tufts, SAPAC in association with TASA, HSC, APA and BUILD India is hosting South Asia Week, featuring events on South Asian culture, politics, economics and arts. From the fun-filled festivals of Holi and Basant, to a journalist’s experience in the conflict ridden zone of Kashmir, the prospect of a new paradigm of economic growth in India and China and a showcasing of BUILD students’ experience in Thotiapatti, we have a week full of events planned for you, straight from the heart of the subcontinent.

Come and celebrate South Asia Week with us. We hope to see you at our events! Here are more details of the events:

1. Holi & Basant by the Hindu Students Council & Association of Pakistani Allies on 21st April – 12.30PM, ResQuad

Basant is the festival of kite flying in Pakistan and is celebrated at the beginning of spring every year. Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating the salvage of a Vishnu devotee from a fire that killed the demoness Holika.

2. Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement: A talk by Partha Ghosh organized by SAPAC on 24th April – 8PM, ASEAN Auditorium

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. Is resource extraction even feasible, given the current global environment? Come and hear Professor Partha Ghosh talk about the next “ism,” a new model for economic development and human advancement. How can this paradigm can challenge the current status quo and provide us with a more sustainable and viable approach towards development?

3. The Psychology of Conflict: A Talk on Kashmir by Justine Hardy organized by SAPAC & The Oslo Scholars Program on April 25th – 6PM, Location TBD

4. Thottiyapatti in Tufts: Experience Development in Rural India with FREE Indian Food
Photo Exhibition by BUILD India on April 26th – 8PM-10PM, SoGo Multipurpose Room

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Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement, beyond the constraints of our current economic model

Last month the South Asian political Action Committee at Tufts hosted an event with professor Partha Ghosh on “Solving the complex puzzle of growth: embracing modernity & preserving tradition in India & China.” The event not only had a great turnout, but also received great feedback, which is why we are bringing back Professor Ghosh at the request of many students, hopefully to try and reach out to a larger student body this time. The talk not only touched on some topics that are relevant to economic development, including the countries of India & China that are often characterized as the next big powers, but provided us with the possibility of a new paradigm for development.

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. More importantly, is this model even feasible given the current global environment? The simple answer is no. Consumerist ideals, which we’re familiar with in this country, “can allow us neatly ignore the fact that we are using exponentially more material than our predecessors could have imagined.” According to current predictions the US itself is expected to create teratons of waste in 20 years. But imagine if Chinese families attain the same standard of living as Americans and create the same amount of household waste. With China’s population, we could be looking at entire country-sized landfills, as professor Ghosh pointed out in his last discussion.

The real question is then how can we advance beyond the constraints of our current economic models, and challenge this status quo? And this is where Professor Ghosh’s research comes alive. Having compiled data from several countries in order to study the viability of different growth models, Professor Ghosh identifies how we can rectify mistakes of the past and at the same time embrace some of the philosophies from the world’s ancient civilizations in order to conceive of a holistic and new solution to the complex puzzle of growth.

We tend to categorise world history into different “isms.” Professor Ghosh suggests that maybe it is time to embrace the next “ism.” For those of you who heard him at TEX recently, you have seen a preview of what is to follow. Join us at 8 PM April 24th in the ASEAN auditorium in the Fletcher Building for this intriguing discussion.


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Solving the puzzle of growth: making sense of India’s recent political developments

The Complex Puzzle of Growth:

The word “complex” is inevitable a part of the discourse on South Asia. SAPAC’s discussion with Partha Ghosh this week on the “Complex Puzzle of Growth in India and China” perhaps testifies to this. It’s difficult to paint a holistic picture of South Asia without acknowledging its complexity —something that is relevant to my last blog on the changing role on women in South Asia as well.

The discussion that we held on growth in India & China, came at a momentous time in Indian politics – given that the annual budget is being decided in Parliament, as well as the recent elections, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh. As Mr. Ghosh pointed out in his discussion, U.P. is essentially excluded from India’s story of growth. With a population of nearly 200 million, India’s most populated state has a per capita GDP that is third from the bottom. An interesting study by the Economist reveals that it’s population is equivalent to Brazil’s while it’s GDP is similar to that of Kenya’s.

So, this is why we call it a puzzle. This narrative is one that most are familiar with, that India has great inequality and disparity.  Yet the story isn’t one of complete despair. In a democracy numbers speak volumes, and the largest voting population speaks power during elections, whose results were much awaited in U.P. What implications will these results have for leadership at the center? was one question that has gotten a lot of media coverage. Here at SAPAC, one of the more important questions, in lieu of our chosen topic, was what does this mean for growth and development in the region, or lack thereof? What kind of governance do people want in order to see this growth and progress?

The democracy-development conundrum:

We often turn to the democracy versus development conundrum, especially in comparing India to China, and whether our democratic system has slowed down our growth in comparison to China. But I think what came out of this discussion was that it isn’t enough to look at democracy as an elusive concept, but the actual nature of governance and leadership. In India, this is key to delivery, especially with respect to growth and development.

Lately this has been one of the biggest shortcomings of our political system. The political paralysis, with several pending legislations in parliament has slowed down reforms that are crucial to development, and the rampant corruption that manifested in civilian unrest have all been indicative of the inefficiency in our political structure. Yet, this is not to say that democracy has failed us as a system.

A democracy in the works:

What started off as a centralised power structure that India inherited from the British, has become more representative over time. The reason behind this is again harks back to our complex narrative — the heterogenous composition of our population. Diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups make up the meta-narrative of what we call India. While regional diversity has been institutionalised in our multi-party system of governance, its real victory was with the rise of the BJP in the 1980s, a legitimate opposition at the center, which challenged what was in theory a multiparty system, but in practice remained dominated by the a single party: the Congress.

Yet, political affiliations in India, have not been polarised around these two parties. Our system is fundamentally different from the way in which Western democracies function in that they are grounded less in ideology and more around leadership, and group interests. When this came up during our discussion, a student pointed this out as an obstacle to substantive development, because regional parties actively seek to divide our country by pandering to single group interests. However, two observations can show us why this may not be true.

The first is in an article I read earlier, by James Manor on “Ethnicity and Politics in India” who argues that diversity in India cannot be compartmentalised. Group affiliations are overlapping —one can speak a different language & belong to a different caste— and so priorities are constantly shifting, which prevents the emergence of lasting fault lines. Thus even if the intention was to actively divide groups, this would be difficult to achieve given the nature of diversity in India. The second is again related to the recent elections.

The polls in U.P. in Punjab where elections were held, perhaps reflect the beginning of a new political era: “the second decline of the Congress.” People are looking less at charisma, and more at who will actually facilitate change.  As the Wall Street Journal recently wrote, “Indian voters demand growth.” Whether the new leadership will bring this in U.P. is still uncertain, but the outlook remains positive. What this does demonstrate. however, is that our democratic system is flexible enough to incorporate the diverse interests and changing priorities of voters. And the good news is that these interests seem to have risen above single group interests, to looking at the goal of long-term development. If this demand for growth can ultimately be represented at the center, we may finally be able to attribute development to democracy; and ultimately solution to the complex puzzle of growth.


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Time for South Asia to step up

For those who believe that India and Pakistan’s relationship is underexplored when it comes to economic trade, Pakistan’s granting India the Most Favoured Nation status would naturally come as good news.

In the simplest of terms this means that India and Pakistan can finally benefit from the gains of free trade, given their proximity to each other and their large economies, which fits in with the underlying principles of the gravity model. It also forms a new avenue for cooperation between the two countries, something that they have long struggled with.

Here at SAPAC we chose this topic for our second roundtable. A question that came up was whether we can really see this as “good news.” This is in light of two factors. The first that even though India granted Pakistan MFN in 1996, relations have still been unstable, and so perhaps much hasn’t changed in this respect. Which is related to the second more pertinent factor. The political instability.

The reason this may be a more relevant factor is because it pertains to the South Asian subcontinent as a whole. We’ve heard it before. India despite it’s burgeoning economy has faced civil protests and more violence resistance in other regions. Bangladesh is currently dealing with war trials from the 1971 and Sri Lanka is cleaning up the mess from it’s civil war, while Nepal is dealing constitutional reforms. For Pakistan and Afghanistan, which get a significant amount of media attention, we are aware of their problems.

It’s unfortunate but perhaps also unsurprising then that the South Asian subcontinent is one of the least economically integrated regions.

Similar concerns were voiced at the “Fourth South Asia Economic Summit” conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that called for better governance and stronger institutions to facilitate economic cooperation. Is this what is holding us back?

There are two ways of looking at the situation: the first is the domestic outlook, where there is a landscape of political instability in the region which we can’t overlook. At the same time if we look to our Western economies and the global economic situation day, then even issues like the Most Favoured Nation status speak volumes for a region of the world that is undoubtedly rising economically as it attempts to disentangle itself from it’s past conflicts. Maybe it is time for South Asia to step up.

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Indo-Pak’s underexplored relationship

Written by Sanjana Basu:

A few months ago I went to an event called,“The Quest for India-Pakistan Normalization: The Road Ahead,” sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace. As the name suggests, the event was trying to focus on measures to build a more positive relationship between the two countries.

Now I say trying because, like every other India-Pakistan event, majority of the discussions revolved around the frequently debated issues of Kashmir, and the long lasting rivalry that has plagued the sub-continent for the past sixty years–which I do not intend to trivialize under any circumstances.

However, in spirit of the event and the confines we were present in, I appreciated and deemed much more valuable the presentations and conversation that flowed from the second panel which was called “The Underexplored Option: Economic Cooperation as a Path to Peace.” ‘Underexplored’ is a word that best describes Indo-Pakistan cooperation: more so, on the economic front.

Mr. Mohsin Khan, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, provided some compelling insight into the opportunity cost of what he called an “unnaturally small” degree of trade between the two nations.

He brought attention to the huge potential for economic trade and the prospects of peace that can follow if short term and medium term measures are taken towards changing the current situation.

Based on gravity models, the ratio of actual to potential trade between India and Pakistan fluctuates between 0.02 and 0.05 or the percentage of trade between the countries is a meagre two to five percent. These numbers are shamefully small compared to the average of fifty percent trade that takes place between neighboring countries. Obviously acknowledging that India and Pakistan are not just neighbors but bitter enemies, measures to slowly but surely bridge this huge gap in trade is something that the two countries should whole heartedly pursue.

Some trade facilitation measures Mr. Khan pointed out were easing visa restrictions, facilitating sea shipments, increasing rail traffic and opening additional border crossings and bus routes (among several others). This will provide a channel to negotiate more potent issues like tariff barriers in India, and the hostage of transit trade in Pakistan.

In addition he pointed to infrastructure, energy, Information Technology (IT) and FDI, as other areas to build a trade relationship.

Building on Mr. Khan’s ideas, Sanjay Puri, the Chairman of the U.S-India Political Action Committee focused more on the impact such a changed economic relationship will have in terms of prosperity. He emphasized that tapping into the economic potential between India and Pakistan is not just an exercise in peace but a responsibility towards the people of both countries, who are facing the cost of a bitter relationship.

Cross border IT cooperation, pharmaceutical cooperation, and job mobility to a youth that deserves to be employed are among the many benefits that this relationship may bring. He concluded by pointing to the demographics of India according to which approximately seventy percent of India’s population will be under the age of thirty.

This generation will consist of citizens of the globalized world with no first hand memories of the devastating partition. For them economic prosperity and the opportunities it brings is a priority. With similar demographic trends in Pakistan, this new generation can be the drivers of change in a rivalry that has colonized the minds of Indians and Pakistanis. It’s not just a battle of arms but of the minds that needs to be fought. And that’s where the real change lies.

As a part of this generation, these thoughts resonate with my hope for progress towards Indo-Pakistan peace. Being aware of the political struggles the two countries face, I think it is of utmost importance that India and Pakistan begin taking small steps towards exploiting this ‘underexplored’ economic relationship, ultimately pushing political change and over time changing the face of the India-Pakistan relationship.

Sanjana Basu is a senior at Tufts University from India and the co-chair of SAPAC.

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