Leaders, Debators, and Researchers At OUP's South Asia Conclave

The second edition of South Asia Conclave by Oxford University Press saw leaders, researchers, debate out ideas and discuss issues topical to Modern South Asia

G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu; S.Y. Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India; Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor, The Wire; Devesh Kapur, Director, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania & Rajeev Gowda, Member of Parliament, Rajyasabha, Karnataka

Oxford University Press (OUP) second edition of the South Asia Conclave witnessed Policymakers, bureaucrats, academicians, and journalists from different spheres attending and debating on the recent developments in South Asia and its significant positioning in geopolitics. The conclave seemed to closely examine the key issues affecting Indian politics, ideology and identity, business and politics, political finance, civil-military relations, and health care policy.

Regaining its status as one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, South Asia played a significant role in the shaping of the so-called Asian century. Following its successful launch in 2017, the second edition of the South Asia Conclave became a major platform to talk about issues pertaining to South Asia, aimed at developing a deeper understanding. 

The first session focused on “politics of Ideology and Identity; the role of a western notion and the rise of social conservation.” Pradeep K. Chhibber and Rahul Verma’s book Ideology and Identity: The changing party systems of India formed the basis of the discussion. Pradeep K. Chhibber is the Director, Institute of International Studies; while Rahul Verma is the PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. Other speakers included Kanchan Chandra, Professor, New York University, Abu Dhabi; Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament, RajyaSabha; Neelanjan Sircar, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research. The session was moderated by Ashutosh Varshney, Professor, Brown University. The speakers debated how the ideology and patronage in the Indian Political system should be more connected rather than the sharp divide that we see today. They also spoke about how the method of measurements depends on the linguistic aspect of the way a question is asked, with respect to the surveys, as well as a shift of power from metropolitan elites to small-town rural India. In conclusion, they spoke about how western policies and notions cannot be applied to the Indian system. 

The second session revolved around the Civil-Military effectiveness of India. Discussion, based on the book “The Absent Dialogue: Civil-Military Relations in India”, by Anit Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, RSIS, Nanyang Technological University, was largely centered towards India’s civil-military relations and how the relationship is rather dysfunctional. Civilians who make the rules, according to the speakers, have no insight into the military functions and policymakers are more concerned about Civilian control than the military effectiveness. They also contested the lack of trust between civilians and military as well as the strong bureaucratic controlled. Other speakers included Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research; Colonel (Retd) Ajai Shukla, Consulting Editor, Strategic Affairs, Business Standard; and General (Retd) Ved Prakash Malik, Retired Chief of the Army Staff, India. The session was moderated by Sushant Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Express. 

The third session on State of Healthcare in India was moderated by Amrita Tripathi, Author & Founder-Editor, The Health Collective. The session focused on how despite India being one of the fastest growing countries in the world, it has been debated that the same progress has not been extended to its public health sector. In contrast to developed countries such as the United States, where health policies hold significance in electoral politics, healthcare in India is not a constituent concern, leading to an abysmally low government investment in the sector. However, funding is not the only issue. There are issues of corruption, ethics, and accountability among others. India ranked 154 out of 195 countries regarding health care access, far behind other South Asian nations as well as Ghana and Liberia, according to the Global Burden of Disease study, published in The Lancet. Irrespective, the healthcare sector in India, facilitated by privatization, remains one of the largest sectors in terms of both employment and revenue generation. The NSS survey over the last two decades indicates that an asymmetric distributive network has been created and disproportionately disseminated in private and public health sector. This leaves almost a negligible space for the government facilities to flourish or for the poor to access the best, or even, decent medical facilities.

The panelist in the session included Amir Ullah Khan, Visiting Professor, ISB and NALSAR, Hyderabad; Leena Menghaney, Head, South Asia, Médecins Sans Frontières; Dr. Aparna Jaswal, Additional Director, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, New Delhi and Dr. Karan Thakur, General Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Apollo Hospitals.

The deliberation revolved around issues related to the measurement of success in the healthcare sector, a model of healthcare, global debate on high drug crisis, trust deficit at large between patient and doctors, lack of budgets for research in the healthcare space among others.

The speakers of the session on Costs of Democracy: Political Finance in India, passionately questioned, if it is impossible to conceive of democracies without elections, why is it impossible to imagine elections without the flood of money in politics? How does every general election in India get more expensive than the last one? Stepping into the murky terrain to find out what enables the average Indian vote to have a price, Costs of Democracy opens readers' eyes to the opaque and enigmatic ways in which money flows through the political heart of the world's largest democracy. The speakers included Rajeev Gowda, Member of Parliament, Rajyasabha, Karnataka; Devesh Kapur, Director, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania; G. Sampath, Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu; S.Y. Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India. The session was moderated by Siddharth Varadarajan, Founding Editor, The Wire.

The discussion was about the practice of electoral democracy, financial politics is a problem across democracies, no independent audit of political parties, outdated regularity framework etc.

The last session on Business and Politics in India, moderated by Shekhar Gupta, Chairman, The Print gave panelists’ a platform to analyze the growing power of business groups in the Indian politics and the consequences of this process on key issue areas. The discussion also revolved around criticism of media today being applied to TV and not print. The speakers included Kanta Murali, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto; Vivek Dehejia, Professor, Carleton University, Canada; T.N. Ninan, Chairman, Business Standard. 

The conference was chaired by Ashutosh Varshney, Professor, Brown University, and co-chaired by Pradeep Chhibber, Director, Institute of International Studies.

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