Event Reports – NUS Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS)
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Event Reports

Modi and the Ganges: Governance in India: 04 October 2018

Topic : ISAS Seminar

Speaker(s) : Mr Victor Mallet


Modi and the Ganges: Governance in India: 04 October 2018

Topic : ISAS Seminar

Speaker(s) : Mr Victor Mallet


Crucial Issues in Indian Foreign Policy: 04 October 2018

Topic : ISAS Closed Door Session

Speaker(s) : Ambassador Shivshankar Menon


India-Singapore FinTech Cooperation: Opportunities and Challenges: 03 October 2018

Topic : ISAS Roundtable

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


The Billionaire Raj: Business, Corruption and Growth in India and Beyond: 02 October 2018

Topic : ISAS Panel Discussion

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


The Truths of India: Information and Society from Manu to Modi: 27 September 2018

Topic : ISAS-SASP Seminar

Speaker(s) : Professor Sanjoy Chakravorty


This seminar outlines the basic arguments in a forthcoming book on the foundations of social reality in India. The work is based on a new approach that combines key insights from epistemology (about the social construction of categories and counts) and psychology (about the need for simple information). The author shows how the two have worked in tandem to produce the invented, unknown and untrue “truths” of Indian society from the first draft of Indian history written by the British colonisers to the third draft being attempted now. The seminar also focuses on the current “post-truth” moment of information abundance and its consequences for the long-standing existential debate between homogenisation and pluralism.

BIMSTEC at 20: Priorities and Prospects: 24 September 2018

Topic : BIMSTEC at 20: Priorities and Prospects

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


In Conversation with Dr S Jaishankar: 14 September 2018

Topic : The United States and South Asia: Assessing the New Dynamics

Speaker(s) : Dr S Jaishankar


ISAS-SASP Joint Seminar: 31 August 2018

Topic : India, Europe and the Indo-Pacific

Speaker(s) : Prof C Raja Mohan, Director


ISAS-ESI Joint Seminar: 31 August 2018

Topic : India’s Global Energy Engagements: Ambitions and Outcomes

Speaker(s) : Mr Vikram Mehta


The session discussed India’s energy crisis and global engagements. The speaker attributed India’s energy crisis to three broad factors – (1) its increasing demand for energy, stemming from its rising population, increasing urbanisation and cumulative impact of policies such as subsidised pricing, inefficiency in usage of energy, and lack of coordination among different governmental agencies – which have encouraged the wasteful consumption of energy in the country; (2) inability of energy supply to keep in pace with demands due to resource constraints, absence of infrastructure to access energy and bring to consumers, pricing mechanism and policies that discourage in investment in domestic productions, and (3) inadequate investment in cleaner energy and obliviousness to environmental concerns.
He highlighted how India is dependent on other nations for its energy supplies. Although India is aggressively increasing its solar generation capacity, the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation and coal for generation is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, he asserted. He shared that India imports 82% of its oil, mainly from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Its gas is mostly imported from Qatar, Australia, the USA and Russia. India’s coal imports are also increasing although it has the 5th largest deposits of coal in the world – its major suppliers include Australia, USA, Indonesia and South Africa. He noted that most of India’s relationships with the countries have been transactional and unembedded on strategic relationship. As such, India has been unable to establish how it would protect its assets in these countries in the event of geo-political upheaval or domestic strife. He made particular mention of the possible effects of ongoing conflicts and issues in the Middle-East (e.g. US sanctions on Iran, Saudi Arabian relations with Iran and Qatar) on India given the latter’s heavy reliance on energy imports from the region. He also addressed the lack of an agency in India that can take a holistic overview of how India can deploy its “balance sheet” in regards to its energy sector, despite being heavily invested in global markets. To enhance the competitiveness of power overtures or initiatives and ensure India’s investments are protected, he suggested creating coordinating mechanisms in the PM office.

ISAS Panel Discussion & Art Exhibition: 30 August 2018

Topic : The Evolving Status of Women in Pakistan

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


ISAS organised a panel discussion and art exhibition titled ‘The Evolving Status of Women in Pakistan’ on 30 August 2018. The session was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Principal Research Fellow at ISAS. Dr Chowdhury introduced the topic and shared that women’s role in Pakistan has changed significantly over the years. Four panellists from the academic, arts and corporate sectors then shared their expertise and knowledge on the issue. The first speaker, Dr Emma Jane Flatt, Visiting Research Fellow at ISAS, said that social media is a double edge sword. She gave a highly detailed presentation on the various cases of sexual violence in Pakistan, and how social media has been both a bane and a boon. The second speaker, Ms Samina Islam, Multidisciplinary Artist and Educator, shared about the curation of art in Pakistan. She also said that artists in Pakistan do not make sculphures since physical representation is forbidden in Islam. The third speaker, Associate Professor Iqbal Singh, Visiting Research Associate Professor at ISAS, spoke about the legal representation of women in Pakistan. He also said that there are institutional hurdles that prevent women from reaching the topic. The final speaker, Mr Imran Nasrullah, Chief Executive Officer and President Director, Cargill Pakistan; and Director, Cargill Asia Pacific Singapore, shared the business side of the issue. He said that there has been a rise in the number of female entrepreneurs in Pakistan. After the panel discussion, the opening of the art exhibition was inaugurated by Professor C Raja Mohan, Director of ISAS.

ISAS Roundtable: 29 August 2018

Topic : IIM-Nagpur Singapore Immersion Programme

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


ISAS-MEI Joint Seminar: 28 August 2018

Topic : Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey and Future Secularism

Speaker(s) : Prof Sumantra Bose


11th ISSD Public Forum: 28 August 2018

Topic : ASEAN-India: Commerce, Connectivity and Culture

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


ISAS Public Symposium: 28 August 2018

Topic : ASEAN-India: Commerce, Connectivity and Culture

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


ISAS Panel Discussion: 27 August 2018

Topic : India-Singapore Strategic Dialogue 2018

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


ISAS Panel Discussion: 23 August 2018

Topic : Pakistan under Imran Khan: A New Dawn?

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


Ambassador Gopinath Pillai gave the opening remark speech by introducing briefly the speakers and their expertise. He then commented that while popular opinion seems to put Mr Imran Khan, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister in the same league as Pakistan’s military due to their support for him, Ambassador Pillai reckoned that Mr Khan has and would eventually show to his people that he has independent thinking and influence on the country’s future foreign policy and domestic reformations. This is also in view that Pakistan’s expansion of its allies, from the U.S. to China at present, has changed the dynamics of collaboration between these foreign allies and the Pakistan military.

Following, Associate Professor Iqbal Singh (Visiting Research Associate Professor) highlighted on the recent election in Pakistan in relation to emerging parties focusing on religion. For instance, he mentioned a small but emerging party known as Tehreek e Islami, which pushes for Pakistan to be governed by Sharia Law and is opposed against strong capitalism. This party won two seats which is not significant, nonetheless suggest a changing dynamics of intertwining religion and politics in the minds of Pakistan voters in recent years. Professor Riaz Hassan also weighed in on the strength of existing stakeholders within Pakistan. Illustrating by the sociological measuring of trust, Professor Hassan highlighted that among various public institutions, the Pakistan military still yields the greatest share of trust Pakistan’s population at large, followed by religious scholars and education institutions. At the other spectrum, the police and parliament yields the lowest trust. Whether this structure would face adjustments, would depend on Mr Khan’s new administration. Mr Shahid Javed Burki, however, proposed a visible transformation in Pakistan’s politics through Mr Khan’s victory. Mr Burki held that Mr Khan’s appeal to the urban youth population in Pakistan, is something that has not happened before in the past. This essentially shifts political support from the rural to urban, and this could likely give Mr Khan another term after this as social contracts with urban youths are being strengthened. Finally, on foreign policy stances, Professor Raja Mohan shared Pakistan’s likelihood of being non-revisionist in terms of adhering to existing Western-led institutions, under Mr Khan’s government. This means working more closely with the IMF, World Bank and its western ally, the United States, rather than solely relying on bilateral ties with China alone. The session then ended off with the question and answer session, in which some prominent themes, such as the strengthening Pakistan’s governing institutions were raised and answered by the panellists in a succinct manner.

ISAS-CII Closed Door Session: 21 August 2018

Topic : The Future of Singapore-India Relations

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


On 21 August 2018 ISAS researchers and delegates from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) met to discuss the future of India-Singapore relations. The 2-hours interactive session was moderated by Prof Raja Mohan, Director of ISAS. Amb Gopinath Pillai, Chairman of the Institute, and Mr Rakesh Bharti Mittal, President of the CII and Vice Chairman of Bharti Enterprises, delivered the opening remarks.

ISAS research staff and CII delegates exchanged views on current economic issues, India’s potential as a destination for Singaporean investments, and the state of RCEP negotiations. Chairman Pillai proposed to enhance ISAS-CII collaboration with a joint workshop to be held annually, as a platform for the two country to discuss each other’s realities and further strengthen ties. The proposal was welcomed by Mr Mittal and his fellow CII representatives, who praised ISAS’ commitment to produce policy-relevant work, and highlighted the importance reserved by CII not only to Business-to-Business interactions, but also to Business-to-Government and Business-to-Academia linkages.

The conversation highlighted a number of relevant points. At the moment, the circumstances result favourable for Singapore-India partnership to step forward. It was agreed that the trade wars developing between China and the United States provide an excellent opportunity for investments to be diverted towards India. It was recognized that Singapore investors often struggle to see India as a comfortable and reliable destination for investments due to a “cultural shock”. Enhanced infrastructure and governance, soft-skills training as well as people-to-people contact will certainly be beneficial to improve the perception of India and bring the two countries closer. ISAS looks at CII as an important channel for Singaporean SMEs willing to find business partners in India.

In addition to this, as stated by Mr Bharti Mittal, CII will soon release a code of conduct for SMEs and the banking sector. Innovation, education and the entertainment industry were mentioned as some of the sectors with highest potential for promoting economic cooperation between the two countries. With regard to the RCEP, it was highlighted how perceptions played a role in the evolving negotiations. ASEAN countries are concerned about RCEP developing outside the ASEAN framework, being often projected by India as an FTA with China. A change in India’s negotiating stance would certainly result beneficial to this regard.

ISAS-MEI Workshop: 15 August 2018

Topic : Reflections on the Partition of India and Palestine after 70 years

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


The “Reflections on the Partition of India and Palestine after 70 Years” workshop was a jointly organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), NUS and Middle East Institute (MEI), NUS. It brought together speakers from different parts of the world to analyse the partitions of British India and Mandate Palestine holistically and examine the tapestries such as the political leaderships, ideologies, laws, and institutions that connect them.

Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Chairman, MEI-NUS delivered the Welcome Remarks where he spoke about the intrinsic importance and significance of the topic to understand contemporary issues. He mentioned how “partition” is a harsh and loaded term compared to “separation”, and cited Singapore-Malaya as a successful case of “separation” whereby the two counties are not unweighted by emotional and historical baggage and complications. They get along fairly better than India-Pakistan or Israel-Palestine.
In his introductory remarks, Professor C Raja Mohan, Director, ISAS-NUS highlighted the salience of partition in not only contemporary domestic politics in the Indian subcontinent but also in the inter-state relations. . He mentioned how the consequences of both India-Pakistan and Palestine-Israel partitions were so terrible and cataclysmic for the respective regions that the involved states still has not been able to come to terms and transcend their differences. He expressed the necessity for academic enterprises to make fresh enquiries into the multiple dimensions of the two partitions, and renew efforts to transcend its negativities.

Next, in the Introductory Lecture titled “What is Partition?” Dr Victor Kattan defined partition as a form of statecraft that has been employed by different actors, in different contexts, at different moments, for different reasons. It is essentially a policy that leads to the division of territory to preserve order amongst great powers, often with the invocation of law in its practice. Therefore, it is not a strictly bilateral arrangement. In contrast, it is a hegemonic act of imposition by which territory is divided by a colonial, neighbouring, regional, or superpower or by a group of states acting in concert, perhaps through an international organization. He argued that while India and Palestine are the paradigm cases of partition, they were a part of a broader phenomenon
Following the Introductory Lecture, the first panel discussion was on “The Partition of British India (August 1947)”. It was chaired by Dr Gyanesh Kudaisya. The first speaker was Professor Ian Talbot who re-examined the Lord Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty to address the question if the British were ‘reluctant partitionists’ and reasons that impelled them to pursue the Partition of British India.

His presentation was followed by Professor Ayesha Jalal who drew on Saadat Hasan Manto’s literacies to present an intimate history of partition and its devastating consequences. She re-assessed the role and legacy of Jinnah in the partition of British India and contended that religion’s role in the partition has been overplayed by the scholars. She stressed that partition was the result of the failure to share-power between the political groups. The Question and Answer session that followed discussed the concept of multi-layered sovereignty and how partition continues to influence the people and inter-state relationships in postcolonial South Asia.
The second panel was chaired by Dr Victor Kattan. It examined the Partition of Mandate Palestine (November 1947). The first panellist, Dr Penny Sinanoglou discussed how the 1937 Peel Commission report shaped conceptions of British plans to partition Palestine. The second presentation was by Dr Laura Robson on the role of the 1947 United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. The Question and Answer session that followed studied the different issues such as the domestic situation in Britain and lack of leadership in Palestine that influenced the Palestinian partition. It also addressed America’s role in the Zionist movement.

The third panel discussion of the day was on “The Partitions of India and Palestine Compared”. It was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury and consisted of Dr Amrita Shodhan and Professor P R Kumaraswamy. While Dr Amrita Shodhan’s paper examined whether and/or how we can make sense of the connections between the two places of Mandate Palestine and British India, Professor P R Kumaraswamy expounded on India’s dilemma of pragmatism vs. principles i.e. Nehru’s preference for a partitioned India but a federal Palestine. The Question and Answer session delved into how the differences between communities were politicised and constructed as irreconcilable. It also noted that processes and outcomes of different partitions are contingent on their respective contexts and contingencies.
The last panel explored the consequences of Partition for South Asia, the Middle East and beyond. The panellists for the session were Dr Iqbal Singh Sevea and Dr Mohamed-Ali Adraoui. It was chaired by Dr James M Dorsey. Dr Iqbal discussed how social identities in South Asia, particularly in Punjab, was impacted by the Partition. He explored the two rebellious figures of Punjabi folklore-Maula Jatt and Dulla Bhatti- and related them with the history and politics of Pakistan. Dr Mohamed-Ali explored the impact of the Palestinian partition on Islamist movements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The Question and Answer session discussed why the Palestinian cause as a mobilising factor is so salient in transnational Islamist movements. It also raised the concept of “caste” in non-Hindu religions in the Indian sub-continent and the how colonial labelling and categorisation of different communities also moulded the latter’s identities.

ISAS-MEI Joint Seminar: 14 August 2018

Topic : India and the Gulf: Modi turns West

Speaker(s) : Prof P R Kumaraswamy


The Joint ISAS-MEI Seminar: "India and the Gulf: Modi turns West" by Prof P R Kumaraswamy was held on 14 August 2018. The session discussed how India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to enhance Indo-Gulf relations through an economy-development centric approach. The speaker shared that India has generally neglected the Gulf even though the region is its largest trading partner, remittance contributor and home to the largest population of its migrants in the world. He attributed India’s lack of a regional policy towards the Middle-East to its view of the region through the Pakistani prism and the absence of expertise on the region in India. He posited that the Modi government is abandoning India’s traditional transactional attitude and forging closer strategic partnership with Gulf countries, especially with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He made particular mention of the potential of UAE to be a regional power and how Indian could utilise this and anchor its engagements with the small nation in shared interests. Additionally, he touched on existing intra-regional tensions and differences i.e. the Arab-Iran rivalry, India-Pak tensions, China’s increasing footprint in the region and so forth, and mentioned how it’s important to carefully circumvent problematic issues and work on mutually beneficial matters. He also highlighted the necessity for India to build capacity to actualise Modi’s imagination of the relationship he wants to forge with the Gulf.

ISAS Seminar: 07 August 2018

Topic : Sino-Indian Relations after the Wuhan Summit

Speaker(s) : Dr Manoj Joshi


During the Wuhan Summit, both the Chinese and Indian Press releases emphasized on the respective countries’ maturity and wisdom to handle differences to peaceful discussions.

An informal meeting, the Wuhan Summit had two key purposes. Firstly, the Summit served to put strategic communication or high level interaction between the two countries on a new platform. Despite bilateral meetings taken place regularly on a routine basis between different ministers hailing from both sides, the summit have done differently by creating a new era of diplomacy where the two top leaders meet more frequently – in a much greater detail where they are free from the constraints of protocol. Secondly, the summit served to create a higher level of intensity of talks between India and China, one that covers a great deal of ground while implementing a better understanding of different perspectives of development.

The Wuhan Summit had produced several results. On the surface level, both India and China were able to present to the world their maturity to understand their pessimistic bilateral relations, yet possess the political will to do something about it. Next, it signifies a turning point and the beginning of a new process of a bilateral relationship, just as the ones established by Rajiv Ghandi in 1988 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. On the practical level, it presents the commitment by both sides to build a common understanding on overarching issues of bilateral and global importance, while they are also independent of third parties’ influence on their respective foreign policies. Immediate results could be seen from the setting up of an India-China military operational hotline to facilitate communication. The Indian army was also instructed to avoid any form of excessively aggressive patrolling tactics on the border as well. Both countries highlight the importance of special representatives, as the two countries seeks a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the border question.

Prior to the Wuhan Summit, Sino-India relations were both progressing and deteriorating. Both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi, after coming into office, focused on economic issues. The developmental partnership between the two countries in 2014 is an example of that focus, building upon an earlier strategic partnership established by Wen Jiabao in 2005. However, signs of a troubled relationship was long present, as the two countries get entangled in an actual faceoff over China’s audacious move to build a road in Arunachal Pradesh. Further Chinese involvement in distressing its relationship with India includes the establishment of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in April 2015; China blocking off Indian efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group in May 2016 – despite Modi personally requesting support from China; and again China blocking Indian efforts to the United Nations to place Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar on the 1267 sanctions list. India was as guilty as the Chinese, with the Tibet issue often coming into picture and creating a displeased China. The Doklam issue on June 2017 was the most significant and recent case study prior to the Summit. Yet the crisis was diffused due to the increased in Modi-Xi level meetings. Side-lined meetings were held by top officials from both sides during the G20 summit and BRICS Summit in July 7 and 27 respectively, as it creates a breakthrough in Sino-India relations, with both Modi and Xi giving special instructions to their special representatives to come up with the idea of an informal summit – the subsequent Wuhan Summit. As the build-up to the Summit continues, India had committed to, firstly, “stop playing the Tibet card”, and secondly to not get militarily involved in Maldives. Despite the fierce confrontation between the respective armies in Doklam, Sino-India cooperation was seen to have taken on another step forward just months after the crisis.

The Wuhan Summit, however, showcases the failure of the existing confidence building measures regime established by both countries. Existing examples such as the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement signed in 1993; Protocols on Modalities for Implementation on Confidence-Building Measures in 1996 and 2005; Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination in the Indo-China border affairs in 2012; and the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement in 2013 were all seen to have failed upon the Doklam Crisis. These agreements lacked of substance, and the crisis highlighted this fact. Looking ahead, even though most observers viewed this Summit as a tactical move, rather than a strategic one, there is no reason to assume that there will not be any lasting results with regards to strategic gains. Despite the odd nature of Sino-India relations that has pushed forth this Summit, the essence of the meeting was not meant to be of any strategic value. Yet, some lasting strategic gains could be achieved, beyond the tactical issues of keeping peace in the Line of Control, as both leaders are seen to be responding to the rapidly changing geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. Also, with the failures of previous agreements resulting to the Wuhan Summit, a stronger summit-level interaction would be construction from both sides. Fortunately, the leaders and top ministers from both sides have initiated such regime, with the Indian Defence and External Affairs ministers preparing to depart for Beijing while the Chinese Defence minister is expected in India this year. President Xi has mentioned in the BRICS Summit that he will be meeting Prime Minister Modi again this year, and visits of military delegation has resumed after a two year gap.

Regarding India’s future, there is a need for the country to maintain a balance in the competitive and cooperative relationship with China. This is where the United States come into play, as India look to deepen its ties with the U.S. in order to maintain the balance of power with China. India is ready to sign a communication and security agreement with the U.S. – which will step up their military cooperation, and the first India-U.S. 2+2 dialogue will be held in New Delhi later this September.

In conclusion, engaging China enables India to prevent zero-sum outcomes relating to China in the immediate neighbourhood in the South Asian region. While there is no doubt that China will continue to involve itself in the region, engagement can make sure these processes will not undermine India’s security interests. With India already doing its part to improve bilateral relations with China with regards to Tibet and Maldives, India had also further prove its commitment to the Chinese by not inviting Australia in the latest Malabar exercise. Consequently, concessions from the Chinese will be created as well. While diplomacy should not be conducted in the public stage, the coined term Megaphone Diplomacy, appears to prove otherwise. The Wuhan Summit, has however, returned the diplomatic discretion of any engagement between the two sides. Consequently, future decisions made and cooperation will be done without any external influences that could exacerbate existing problems. More joint projects with other countries along with India and China could also be realised.

During the Q&A, a total of 17 questions were asked. Questions ranged from whether India is seen to have “sold out” its own interests to China, and whether the current situation in the aftermath of the Summit is more of a process and rather than of substance. One questioned whether India is trying to do too much despite China not giving a lot in return. Also, another questioned whether the Doval Doctrine is mutually exclusive to the strategic interests of India today.

ISAS Joint Panel Discussion: 02 August 2018

Topic : The Global Trade War: Implications for India, China and the Region

Speaker(s) : Multiple Speakers


Professor C Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS, chaired the panel discussion titled ‘The Global Trade War: Implications for India, China and the Region’. Members of the panel discussion were Mr Lee Yi Shyan (Chairman, Business China), Mr Dustin Watson (Director, Asia Business Trade Association), Mr Eduardo Pedrosa (Secretary-General, Pacific Economic Cooperation Council) and Dr Amitendu Palit (Senior Research Fellow and Research lead, ISAS). Ambassador Gopinath Pillai (Chairman, ISAS and Ambassador-at-Large, MFA) opened the session by mentioning the timeliness of the panel discussion in allowing us to contribute to the discussion while it was still evolving. He also highlighted the salience of the topic, as it had implications on every region, especially Southeast Asia.

Professor Mohan began the panel discussion by assessing the consequences of a trade war on domestic politics and the political future of President Trump and President Xi. He also elaborated on the intra-western contradictions that were taking place between the United States (US) vis-à-vis the European Union (EU) and the NATO. Mr Lee began by providing a summary of the trade war thus far. He shared that the trade war will be a double-edged sword which will hurt both China and the US firms involved in China through the supply chain. He gave the example of Apple Inc., where 538 out of its 900 plants are located in China, to emphasise how the trade war will hurt both parties. He also stressed his belief that while China will be able to ride through the war, President Xi’s goals to be moderately developed by 2035 and a superpower by 2050 will push him to find ways to avoid the trade war. Mr Watson chose to assess the trade policy through a more political lens rather than an economic one. He highlighted that the trade war rhetoric will not decrease before the midterm elections in November. He stated that the trade war is viewed as an attempt to maintain house and the republican majority in the senate. He also speculated that the trade war could cool down after November if President Trump maintains the house and senate. Mr Pedrosa provided a lot of data from the surveys that the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council has conducted. A survey on perceived risks to global trade showed that the highest risk was increased protectionism. His data also showed that 52% had a negative assessment of the political environment for freer trade. He concluded that it was important to keep assessing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other regional efforts to see how they fit into multilateral arrangements. Dr Palit looked more specifically at India and mentioned that India officially joined the trade war by announcing retaliatory measures on 29 items that it imports from the US. He posited that the trade war is just the beginning and that it will widen beyond tariffs. An example he gave was the extension of section 232 into the H1B visa restrictions.

The audience asked a wide array of questions ranging from issues of increasing disparities to potential collaborations within Asia. However, the main overriding question was the impact of the trade war, and there was a general consensus that the shock will be good for the system. Mr Watson suggested that the shock to the system will allow for change and will stir discussion within the WTO to make countries play fair and by the rules. Mr Lee concurred and added on that the shock could also spur more plurilateral agreements, a point that Mr Pedrosa earlier raised.

ISAS Seminar: 31 July 2018

Topic : Is Corruption Growth-Enhancing in Autocracies?

Speaker(s) : Dr Shrabani Saha


Corruption is a key aspect of most societies around the world, including that of South Asia. It has been regarded as a major bottleneck of growth and development for these societies. Over the years, there have been numerous policies and efforts put forth by various stakeholders to tackle this key problem. The beginning of the 1980s saw the introduction of greater empirical study and research on this topic. Economist Paolo Mauro’s work titled ‘Corruption and Growth’ published in 1995 can be regarded as the pioneer paper on the study of corruption and economic growth. In this paper, Mauro argues that corruption creates mostly negative impact on investments which are a major engine of economic growth. Dr Saha also highlighted other well-known studies that were carried out by scholars like Reinikka and Svensson in 2003 that explore other channels like human capital and misallocation of resources that have had negative impact on economic growth. She also emphasised that as corruption is a secretive activity, investments usually go to avenues that have lesser transparency in the government such as education and healthcare. In countries that have high rates of corruption, there are less investments in such areas and instead more investments in areas like infrastructure.

Dr Saha a highlighted two other major schools of thought that has been present in literature in explaining the positive and negative effects of corruption on growth and development. These two schools of thought have also been explored greatly in depth in her research analysis.

ISAS Public Lecture: 05 July 2018

Topic : The Bay of Bengal: History, Memory and the Future

Speaker(s) : Prof Sunil Amrith


Professor Sunil Amrith, Mehra Family Professor, Professor of History, Harvard University, and Academic Visitor of the Asia Research Institute gave a Public lecture on the Bay of Bengal: History, Memory and the Future. The ‘Question and Answer’ session was chaired by Professor Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS.

During his address, Professor Mohan mentioned about how the Burma China and India Theatre and Second World War were overlooked perspectives of history as they seemed so remote from geopolitics when it reality it was not the case. He also spoke about the Bay of Bengal functioning as a strategic backwater.

During his lecture, Professor Amrith mentioned about how after decades of neglect, the Bay of Bengal is now gaining strategic and economic importance. He also provided further insights on how Singapore, much more than Calcutta came to be the heart of the Bay of Bengal. Historical connections under the backdrop of the South Asian diaspora were reiterated through Professor Sunil Amrith’s sharing about the flourishing of print culture among the Tamil, Telugu and Bangla languages. Professor Amrith also spoke about the Roja Mutthaiya library which had Tamil publications. He further elaborated about the Tamil and Telugu speaking diaspora who had settled down in different part of Southeast Asia. Professor Amrith mentioned on how there was an increasing trend of migrations across the Bay of Bengal in the 1950s with the entry of Telugu porters from the Tungabhadra dam who were also Burma refugees. Professor Amrith also touched on the religious aspect of the Bay of Bengal. He went on to elaborate further about how scholarship was reviving the Indian Ocean as a geopolitical concept via taking advantage of kinship understandings and cultural links that also involved the religious tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia. For instance, the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dhammapala revived Theravada Buddhism via the establishment of the Maha Bodhi Society in India. Profesor Amrith also stated that the Bay of Bengal’s crucial role in international politics was evident from India’s initiative of Project Mausam. It was described as a peaceful zone of cosmopolitan commerce. Professor Amrith also spoke about the arena of strategic competition between two rising powers that has formed in maritime. The idea of the Bay of Bengal emerging as a strategic point in light of the China’s Maritime Silk Road was also brought to attention by him.

The lecture was concluded with the emphasis on the Bay of Bengal becoming a major area of research in academia given its primarily economic nature of integration under the context of diasporic connections that form the crux of migration, citizenship and identity.

ISAS Book Launch & Panel Discussion: 03 July 2018

Topic : Seven Decades of Independent India: Ideas and Reflections

Speaker(s) : Dr Janil Puthucheary


ISAS Closed Door Session: 02 July 2018

Topic : India’s Agrarian Distress and its Economic and Political Implications

Speaker(s) : Dr Ashok Gulati


The Seminar by Dr Ashok Gulati, Academic Visitor to the Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS and Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture, was chaired by Professor C Raja Mohan. Dr Gulati mainly discussed about the agrarian distress that has been affecting the whole of South Asia, its implications on the social, political and economic landscape on the region and measurements to tackle this crisis in the long term. He also shared his insights on the how the current measurements can be improved and made sustainable for long term progress in the industry.

Agriculture is one of the most important industry for the whole of South Asia, especially India. According to the 2011 census, 54% of the workforce are engaged in such farm-related work. It is the main source of income and livelihood for many in the rural and even urban areas. More importantly, agriculture production has been seen to have a multiplier effect on other industries such as services as well. For example, while in India, agriculture directly contributes to about 16% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), because of the fact that the food and beverage industry depends largely on agricultural products for sales, agriculture can actually contribute up to 25-30% of the GDP. As such, it is important to ensure that the government devotes enough resources and designs effective policy reforms to ensure that this industry is able to sustain itself.

From 2002-2014, the state of Gujarat where Mr Narendra Modi served as the Chief Minister, registered the highest rate of agricultural growth amongst all other states at 8% per annum which was unheard of in Indian history. The main driver of this growth came from the cotton revolution. During this period, Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation helped to develop the BT cotton trade that brought in many profits. The success of the agriculture sector in Gujarat, mainly in the Saurashtra region, during this period manifested into political gains for Modi who managed to retain his power for three consecutive terms.

However, over the last 4 years, this situation has changed drastically. Owing to the massive agrarian crisis in many parts of Gujarat, many farmers have become increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated with the government. This has been reflected during the Gujarat elections in 2017 where Mr Modi lost power over the Saurashtra region. The case of Gujarat is a classic micro-state level example of the spill over effect of the agrarian distress onto the political landscape.

Singapore Symposium 2018: 28 June 2018

Topic : Interactive Session with Mr Heng Swee Keat

Speaker(s) : Mr Heng Swee Keat


ISAS-CII Closed Door Session: 28 June 2018

Topic : In-Conversation with Mr Heng Swee Keat

Speaker(s) : Mr Heng Swee Keat


ISAS Closed Door Session: 21 June 2018

Topic : Interactive Session with the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh

Speaker(s) : Dr S Narayan


ISAS Book Launch & Panel Discussion: 19 June 2018

Topic : The Politics of Common Sense: State, Society and Culture in Pakistan

Speaker(s) : Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar



Last modified on 23 January 2018