Wilson Center Experts

Aseema Sinha

Fellow
Asia Program

Expertise:
Asia
Affiliation:
Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Wilson Center Project(s):
"The WTO and India: Private Interests, Public Purpose, and Global Linkages"
Term:
Sep 01, 2004
-
May 01, 2005

I was born and raised in metropolitan (Calcutta and New Delhi), India. Interest in history and political science led me to Lady Sri Ram College, a premier undergraduate college in New Delhi and then to Jawaharlal Nehru University where I pursued a masters and M.Phil degree in political science in the late 1980s. In 1985, while I was studying at the Lady Shri Ram College for my undergraduate degree, I was required to write a book review. I chose Iqbal Narain, State Politics in India, 1976. At that time, I did not know that years later, understanding subnational politics of development would became my thesis completed at Cornell University and revised as a book! This book titled, The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India: A Leviathan Divided, urges a re-evaluation of the developmental state. Today, states are vilified and criticized the world over. Market-based action, it is argued, must discipline the excesses of states. ‘Lessons' from the Indian experience are invoked to confirm this powerful world view. The Indian model of development—both during its slow and the recent high growth periods—seems to confirm the conventional view that state failures are more crippling than market failures. This project seeks a way out of such dichotomous categories by challenging the dominant zeitgeist. The book argues that development is no longer a sole project of the nation-state or of globalized markets; subnational or infranational institutions mediate the process. Thus, the critics of the state have got it wrong because they failed to notice the nimble actions of subnational units—some local governments in Russia and China for example, and some regional states in India—in shaping both dirigiste developmentalism as well as globalization. This argument displaces the analytical searchlight to subnational actors and institutions but also seeks to re-evaluate national developmental trajectories in a different way. Nation-states must be understood in a disaggregated way, as a combined product of multiple actors and states. While provinces play a mediating role, they are also shaped by the larger context, whether it be global or national, in which they operate. This implies that the interaction and linkages across levels of analysis will yield a better and more complex theory of state than we currently have at our disposal. This project also led me to a comparative analysis of India and China and to theories of federalism. I am also interested in studying the workings of federalism across other countries in the near future. As I finished my research for the first book project, I became interested in reconfiguration of business-state relations in fragmented or what has been characterized as ‘involuted pluralist' countries such as India. As I began research on this topic I noticed that the one important player in shaping business-state relations in India is the World Trade Organization (WTO). This led me to think about assessing the extent and nature of the impact of the WTO on state structures, the policy process, and domestic collective action. I embarked upon this project with the help of an American Institute of Indian Studies grant in 2003-2004 and I hope to complete it at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2004-2005. The central question of my proposed research project is: Why does India, with a long tradition of inward-looking trade policies, continue to participate in the WTO and with what effect? What impact does India's participation in the GATT and WTO negotiations have on domestic state capacity and domestic collective action? I focus on state institutions governing trade, business interests affected by the WTO, and the nature of domestic alliances around trade. The connection between domestic and international politics in trade policymaking is well-recognized in the prevailing literature. This literature, however, does not open up the black box of "international institutions" (for example, the GATT and the WTO) to analyze the reciprocal impact of international trade institutions on domestic collection action. Given this lacuna in the literature, we need more fine-tuned case studies of the impact of international trade regimes on domestic politics of key nation-states. I seek to address this issue for India, an important actor within the formal and informal WTO structure.
 

Education

B.A. (1987) Lady Sri Ram College, New Delhi (India); M.A. (1989) Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (India); M.Phil. (1991) Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (India); Ph.D. (2000) Cornell University
 

Subjects

India,South Asia,World Trade Organization
 

Experience

  • Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000-present
  • Visiting Fellow, Kellogg Institute, University of Notre Dame, January-May 2002

Expertise

Political economy; comparative politics; South Asia; India's political economy; theory and practice of policy process; federalism; decentralization in India and China; India's trade regime

Project Summary

As the impact of the WTO on domestic politics of trading states becomes more intense, it is clear that we need more fine-grained studies of the dynamics of domestic change stimulated by a powerful multilateral body. This study asks: What impact does India's participation in the GATT and WTO negotiations have on domestic state capacity and collective action? In order to address this question, I open up the black box of global trade institutions and examine the impact of its specific institutional features on domestic politics, state reform, and business collective action in India. Comparative sectoral analysis enables an empirically rich analysis of changes in domestic collective action. This study, by focusing on the impact of international trade regime on India both over time and across policy sectors, renders many of the theoretical propositions about the impact of international institutions amenable to empirical evaluation. It promises to yield useful insights to the policy community in India, the international policy community as well as U.S. policymakers interested in India, the WTO, and the international trade regime.

Major Publications

  • The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics in India: A Leviathan Divided, (Indiana University Press, forthcoming)
  • "Rethinking the Developmental State Model: Divided Leviathan and Subnational Comparisons in India," Comparative Politics, July 2003
  • "Political Foundations of Market-Enhancing Federalism: Theoretical Lessons from India and China," Comparative Politics, forthcoming
  • "The Changing Political Economy of Federalism in India: A Historical Institutionalist Approach," India Review, Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2004

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