Episodes

  • One year ago, Chinese and Indian forces traded blows in the remote Galwan Valley—resulting in the first deaths along the Line of Actual Control since 1975. Months later, India would be hit by the coronavirus, whose precise origin story in China we still do not fully understand. Indian public opinion towards China has soured and Beijing has nervously watched India double-down on its engagement with the so-called “Quad.”

    It’s against this backdrop that the scholar Kanti Bajpai has released a timely new book, India Versus China: Why They Are Not Friends. Kanti is the Director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation and Wilmar Professor of Asian Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and he joins Milan on the podcast this week.

    The two discuss the untold pre-history of the Chinese-Indian rivalry, the sources of the trust deficit between the two countries, and China’s surprising soft power advantage. Plus, the two discuss possible scenarios for China-India conflict and India’s pressing domestic reforms agenda.

    Grand Tamasha, “Darshana Baruah on the Indian Ocean Imperative,” April 6, 2021Grand Tamasha, “Ananth Krishnan on What China’s Rise Means for India,” October 20, 2020Grand Tamasha, “Ashley J. Tellis on India’s China Conundrum,” September 22, 2020“Off the Cuff with Kanti Bajpai,” ThePrintKanti Bajpai, “Why does China consistently beat India on soft power?” Indian Express, June 23, 2021
  • Over the last two-and-a-half years, Milan and his guests have spent a lot of time on the podcast talking about some of the biggest questions facing Indian society. What is driving an increase in religious nationalism? To what extent is religious intolerance on the rise? Is caste morphing from a marker of hierarchy to a marker of difference? And what, if anything, does it mean to be truly Indian?

    These are just some of the questions a landmark new study by the Pew Research Center—released today—asks and answers, drawing on an important new survey of religion, identity, and belonging. On the show this week, Milan is joined by Neha Sahgal, associate director of research at Pew and one of the lead investigators of this new work.

    Milan and Neha discuss the coexistence of religious tolerance and religious segregation in India, the salience of caste identity and Hindu nationalism, and the evidence for “secularization theory.” Plus, the two discuss why South India is an outlier in many respects and what larger lessons the study holds for Indian democracy.

    Neha Sahgal et al,"Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation," Pew Research Center.
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  • Note: Milan’s interview with Arora Akanksha took place on June 18. On June 19, the United Nations General Assembly formally approved a second term for the incumbent António Guterres—officially bringing the selection process to a close.

    Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council recommended the reelection of António Guterres as secretary-general, virtually assuring the Portuguese leader a second term at the helm of one of the world’s most consequential bodies.

    But not everyone is standing by to coronate Mr. Guterres. Arora Akanksha—a Canadian citizen of Indian heritage—is running an insurgent campaign to unseat the incumbent Secretary-General. Her campaign has attracted attention—not only for its boldness—but also because Ms. Akanksha has spent the last several years toiling inside the UN and has been unafraid to call out its shortcomings from within.

    Arora joins Milan on the podcast this week. The two of them discuss her north Indian roots, circuitous path to the UN, and unlikely decision to run for the UN’s top job. Plus, the two discuss Arora’s diagnosis of what ails the UN and her priorities for reform.

    Rick Gladstone, “Who Is Arora Akanksha, the 34-Year-Old Running for U.N. Secretary General?” New York TimesAdam Iscoe, “On the Secret Campaign Trail to Lead the U.N.” New YorkerStephanie Fillion, “A Millennial UN Staffer Who Is Daring to Run Against Secretary-General António Guterres,” PassBlue
  • In India, there are growing signs that the country is slowly exiting the second wave of the COVID crisis as people get back to work, localities lift lockdown restrictions, and markets reopen. But the second wave leaves behind a trail of devastation, loss, and widespread anger. And Indians may not have much time to enjoy a return to normalcy, as government officials are already warning of a third wave of the virus.

    To discuss where things stand in India today, Milan is joined Niha Masih, a Delhi-based correspondent for the Washington Post. Niha reflects on her family’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental toll the pandemic has taken, and the under-reported challenges rural India faces. Plus, the two discuss the Indian government’s new vaccine policy and the political implications of the crisis for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    Niha Masih, “My whole family was infected in India’s devastating coronavirus surge. Not all survived,” Washington PostNiha Masih and Taniya Dutta, “As India’s pandemic surge eases, a race begins to prepare for a possible next wave,” Washington PostNiha Masih, “India’s coronavirus crisis spreads to its villages, where health care is hard to find,” Washington PostJoanna Slater, Niha Masih, and Shams Irfan, “In an Indian city, obituaries reveal missing coronavirus deaths and untold suffering,” Washington PostJoanna Slater and Niha Masih, “In India’s devastating coronavirus surge, anger at Modi grows,” Washington PostMilan Vaishnav, “Will voters hold Modi to account for India’s covid-19 crisis? Don’t bet on it,” Washington Post“Sadanand Dhume and Tanvi Madan on the political and foreign policy ramifications of India's COVID second wave,” Grand Tamasha“Samanth Subramanian on India’s Vaccine Conundrum,” Grand Tamasha“Anup Malani on India’s COVID Second Wave,” Grand Tamasha
  • A troubling surge in hate crimes and discrimination targeting Asian Americans has hit the headlines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The violence has cast a newfound spotlight on the bigotry many Asian immigrant populations experience in the United States.

    While Indian Americans have not borne the brunt of the discrimination of the COVID era, the community is no stranger to prejudice. A new study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Johns Hopkins-SAIS, and the University of Pennsylvania looks at the question of discrimination and the broader social realities of the Indian diaspora of the United States.

    Milan is a co-author of this study, and this week he sits down with his fellow co-authors—Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, and Jonathan Kay—to discuss the report’s findings. They discuss the degree of everyday discrimination Indian Americans face, the connection between polarization in India and divisions in the United States, and the ways in which divides in the diaspora could affect U.S.-India relations. Plus, the group reflects on larger issues of identity, social networks, and belonging in the Indian diaspora.

    Episode notes:

    Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, Jonathan Kay, and Milan Vaishnav, “Social Realities of Indian Americans: Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey”Grand Tamasha, “Sumitra Badrinathan and Devesh Kapur Decode the 2020 Indian American Vote”Grand Tamasha, “Sumitra Badrinathan and Devesh Kapur on How Indian Americans View India”Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, and Milan Vaishnav, “How Will Indian Americans Vote? Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey”Sumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, and Milan Vaishnav, “How Do Indian Americans View India? Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey”
  • This week on the show, Milan is joined by Grand Tamasha news round-up regulars Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution.

    This week, Milan, Sadanand, and Tanvi discuss the political state of affairs in India in the wake of recent state elections, the foreign policy ramifications of the COVID-19 second wave, and the government’s ongoing tussle with social media companies.

    Plus, the three speculate about who will lead the opposition in India’s 2024 general elections.

    Episode notes:

    Sadanand Dhume, “Modi Declared Victory, Then Covid Struck Back With a Vengeance,” Wall Street JournalSadanand Dhume, “India’s Second Covid Wave Recedes. Will a Third One Sweep In?” Wall Street Journal Dhruva Jaishankar and Tanvi Madan, “How the Quad Can Match the Hype,” Foreign Affairs
  • In the early 1990s, India legislated sweeping new gender quotas in local government in the hopes that women’s political empowerment would help to rectify centuries-old social and economic inequalities. But, despite these moves, we know surprisingly little about whether and how quotas have undone entrenched social, political, and economic hierarchies around the world.

    A new book by the political scientist Rachel Brulé—Women, Power and Property: The Paradox of Gender Inequality Laws in India—tackles precisely this question through a broad-ranging study of quotas in India and their impacts not just on women’s lives, but on the broader system of status hierarchy and dominance that permeates Indian society.

    Rachel, an assistant professor of global development policy at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, joins Milan on the show this week to talk about her new book, the entrenched nature of gender inequality in India and around the world, and the complex effects of quotas on development outcomes in India. Plus, the two discuss the prospects of the Women’s Reservation Bill, a long-pending bill that would reserve one-third of parliamentary and state assembly seats in India for women.

    Episode notes:

    Rachel Brulé and Nikhar Gaikwad, “Culture, Capital and the Political Economy Gender Gap: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Matrilineal Tribes,” Journal of PoliticsRachel Brulé, “Reform, Representation & Resistance: The Politics of Property Rights’ Enforcement,” Journal of PoliticsIsabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
  • One of the enduring puzzles about the tragic second wave of COVID is how India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, faces an alarming shortage of vaccines.

    A new essay by the journalist Samanth Subramanian for the online news organization Quartz argues that there’s no single answer, but rather a “timeline of dysfunction” marked by what he calls “government negligence, corporate profiteering, opaque contracting, and the inequities of the global pharmaceutical market."

    Samanth is a senior reporter at Quartz covering the future of capitalism. He has previously written for the Guardian Long Read, the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and WIRED. He's also the author of three books, including A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of JBS Haldane, one of the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2020.

    Samanth is Milan’s guest on the show this week and the two discuss how the Indian government has managed the deadly second wave of the COVID pandemic, the role the Serum Institute of India and its enigmatic CEO have played in India’s vaccine production, and the patchy rollout of the government’s vaccine delivery. Plus, the two discuss what the United States and the international community must do to help vaccinate the developing world.

    Episode notes:

    Samanth Subramanian, “In the push for new vaccines, taxpayers keep paying and paying,” Quartz.Samanth Subramanian, “The US’ support for vaccine patent waivers still leaves plenty to be resolved,” Quartz.Samanth Subramanian, “Why is India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, running short of vaccines?” Quartz.Samanth Subramanian, “India is feeling all the pain—and none of the gain—of an undeclared lockdown,” Quartz.
  • More than fifteen years ago, India’s parliament passed a sweeping piece of legislation known as the Right to Information Act—a law that transforms the way ordinary citizens access the inner workings of government, offering them an unprecedented glimpse into how policy is made, how funds are allocated, and how interests are served.

    A new book by the political scientist Himanshu Jha, Capturing Institutional Change: The Case of the Right to Information Act, asks a seemingly simple question: why would a state that is so deeply penetrated by vested interests, initiate a far-reaching process of reform that would expose the very special interests who have benefited from opacity in the first place?

    This week on the podcast, Milan sits down with Himanshu, who is a lecturer and research fellow in the Department of Political Science at the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University. The two talk about the domestic and foreign origins of law, the implementation challenges it has faced, the ways in which it has challenged vested interests, and how the government has tried to undermine transparency.

  • On Sunday, the highly anticipated results from five state assembly elections across India were announced. These results come at a time of great uncertainty in India as the country is in the throes of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, which is racking up nearly 400,000 new cases every day.

    To help make sense of these elections and how they fit into the broader Indian political landscape, this week on the show Milan speaks with veteran journalist Aditi Phadnis, political editor at the Business Standard. Aditi and Milan discuss the reasons behind Mamata Banerjee’s decisive victory in West Bengal, the Left’s historic showing in Kerala, the BJP’s win in Assam, and the DMK’s comeback in Tamil Nadu. Plus, the two discuss the implications of this election for Indian federalism, governance, and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    Episode notes:

    Milan Vaishnav, “Will voters hold Modi to account for India’s covid-19 crisis? Don’t bet on it,” Washington PostNeelanjan Sircar, “The Bengal model to counter the BJP,” Hindustan TimesAditi Phadnis, “It's BJP again in Assam, but who will be the next chief minister?” Business StandardAditi Phadnis, “Going gets tougher for Modi govt as election results favour Opposition,” Business StandardAditi Phadnis, “Mamata Banerjee's wheelchair stops the BJP juggernaut in West Bengal,” Business StandardAditi Phadnis, “National politics set to change as Mamata Banerjee keeps West Bengal,” Business Standard
  • It has been a harrowing week for India. The country is reeling under the effects of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, which is responsible for more than 300,000 new cases a day and more than 2,000 fatalities. And these official numbers are almost certainly a dramatic undercount.

    To understand what is driving this new second wave of the virus and the global health implications of the surge, professor Anup Malani joins Milan on the show this week. Anup is the Lee and Brena Freeman professor at the University of Chicago Law School and a professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

    Anup and Milan discuss India’s second COVID wave—what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to find out. Plus, they discuss the findings of numerous serological studies Anup and his co-authors have conducted across India, the contested role of lockdowns, and the worrying prospect of vaccine nationalism.

    Episode notes:

    Anup Malani, “Research Notes” newsletterSerological studies carried out by Anup Malani and his co-authorsArvind Gupta et al, “To Friends in the United States: Facilitate Global Vaccine Manufacturing”Amanda Glassman and Rachel Silverman, “The International Community Has One Job: Getting COVID-19 Under Control”
  • This month, voters are going to the polls in five Indian states to select the members of their respective state assemblies. These polls are being seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and the ability of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to grow or further consolidate its popularity in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

    Election results will be announced on May 2 but, before then, we will hear from a litany of exit polls that will try to predict the outcomes of these five contests. The exit polls conducted by Axis My India will among the most eagerly anticipated. The firm has garnered a reputation for accurately predicting a spate of recent elections across India. Milan’s guest on the show this week is Pradeep Gupta, the Chairman and Managing Director of Axis My India and author of the brand-new book, How India Votes: And What It Means.

    Milan and Pradeep discuss why it is so hard to conduct election surveys in India, why Indian voters are delivering more decisive mandates of late, and how Narendra Modi has established a unique connection with Indian voters. Plus, the two discuss the state of the political opposition and how Modi was able to turn demonetization, a questionable economic policy measure, into a big political winner.

    Episode notes:

    Pradeep Gupta’s interview with Karan Thapar of The WireMilan Vaishnav, “Understanding the Indian Voter,” Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceAmit Ahuja and Pradeep Chhibber, “Why the Poor Vote in India: ‘If I Don't Vote, I Am Dead to the State’”
  • Most people who work on India regularly refer to India as the world’s largest democracy and the most enduring democracy in the developing world. However, they often have to footnote such statements with the caveat that India experienced a twenty-one-month period of Emergency Rule in the late 1970s during which democracy was placed in cold storage.

    A new book, India’s First Dictatorship--The Emergency 1975-1977, by Christophe Jaffrelot and Pratinav Anil breaks new ground in providing us with a comprehensive history and political analysis of this exceptional period. Christophe joins Milan on the show this week to discuss why the Emergency was imposed, how it was imposed, and why—in the end—it was undone. Plus, the two talk about talk about parallels between the political power structure in India circa the late 1970s and today.

    Episode notes:

    Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, “Interview: Christophe Jaffrelot on understanding the Emergency and its relevance to Modi’s India,” Scroll.inPratinav Anil, “The Myth of Congress Socialism,” Himal Southasian
  • Few regions of the world have gotten more attention in the first few months of the Biden administration than Asia. And, within Asia, top leaders from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to President Joe Biden himself have singled out the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in particular.

    To discuss why this region has gotten such significant air-time and to help us understand what shape greater power competition might take there, Darshana Baruah joins Milan on the podcast this week. Darshana is an associate fellow with the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where she leads Carnegie’s new Indian Ocean Initiative.

    Darshana and Milan discuss the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, India’s evolving views toward the “Quad,” and how the United States and India might cooperate in this critical region. Plus, the two discuss China’s strategic motivations and the existential issue of climate change for the region’s small island nations.

    Darshana Baruah, “Showing Up is Half the Battle: U.S. Maritime Forces in the Indian Ocean,” War on the RocksDarshana Baruah, “What is Happening in the Indian Ocean?” Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceDarshana Baruah, “India in the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi’s Theater of Opportunity,” Carnegie Endowment for International PeaceEvan Feigenbaum and James Schwemlein, “How Biden Can Make the Quad Endure,“ Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • The Biden administration has been in office for just a little over two months but India has already emerged as an important foreign policy priority for the president and his new team. But what do the United States and India seek to do together? What is the significance of this month’s leadership-level Quad summit? And, at a time when democracy is under stress globally, how are these two democracies managing their own domestic challenges at home?

    To discuss these questions and more, the Indian Ambassador to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu joins Milan on the podcast this week. There are few people in the Indian government who have more experience living and working in the United States as Ambassador Sandhu, who is on his third tour of duty in Washington.

    Ambassador Sandhu and Milan discuss how U.S.-India relations have evolved since the former’s first posting in Washington in 1997 and what the future might hold for the bilateral partnership. Plus, the two discuss democracy in India, the importance of the Quad, and the state of U.S.-India economic ties.

    Episode notes:

    Joe Biden, Narendra Modi, Scott Morrison and Yoshihide Suga, “Our four nations are committed to a free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” Washington PostMilan Vaishnav, “The Decay of Indian Democracy,” Foreign AffairsSumitra Badrinathan, Devesh Kapur, and Milan Vaishnav, “How Do Indian Americans View India? Results From the 2020 Indian American Attitudes Survey,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Rasputin, Lucifer, Evil Genius, Sombre Porcupine, The World’s Most Hated Diplomat. These are just some of the choice names that people have given for the former diplomat and politician V.K. Krishna Menon.

    Menon is, in many ways, one of the most consequential figures in post-Independence India and he is the subject of a recent book by the politician and author Jairam Ramesh, titled: A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon. The book was awarded the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay-New India Foundation (NIF) Book Prize for 2020.

    Jairam Ramesh is Milan’s guest on the show this week. The two discuss Ramesh’s approach to biography writing, Menon’s inscrutable personality, his status as Nehru’s “soulmate,” and his lasting legacy for Indian foreign policy. Plus, the two discuss Menon’s contemporary relevance as India stares down the possibility of another conflict with China over their contested border.

    Episode notes:

    Jairam Ramesh, Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar & Indira Gandhi
  • This week on the podcast, Milan is joined once more by Grand Tamasha “news round-up” regulars Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution. This week, the trio discuss three topics: last week’s heads-of-state summit of the “Quad” countries; recent, controversial assessments on the health of Indian democracy; and the Modi government’s renewed economic reforms push.

    Plus, the three offer recommendations for Indian cultural exports that sustained them during the pandemic.

  • The contested borders between India, China, and Pakistan render the Himalayas one of the world’s most dangerous geopolitical flashpoints in the year 2021. A new book by the journalist Myra MacDonald, White as the Shroud: India, Pakistan and War on the Frontiers of Kashmir, takes readers inside the long-simmering conflict over the Siachen glacier—one of the most obscure and forbidding battlegrounds in the world.

    Myra joins Milan on the podcast this week to talk about her new book and its larger implications for regional and global politics. The two discuss Myra’s lifelong passion for India/South Asia, the origins of India and Pakistan’s decades-long battle for Siachen, and the toll war at 20,000 feet takes on soldiers from both sides. Plus, Myra reflects on how the Modi government’s August 2019 abrogation of Article 370in Jammu and Kashmir has impacted relations with both China and Pakistan.

    Episode notes:

    Myra MacDonald, Heights of Madness: One Women`s Journey in Pursuit of a Secret WarMyra MacDonald, Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian WarGrand Tamasha, “Ashley J. Tellis on India’s China Conundrum”
  • In September 2020, Indian lawmakers approved three controversial agriculture bills amidst an uproar on the floor of Parliament. That uproar would soon manifest outside of Parliament as tens of thousands of farmers took to the streets on the outskirts of Delhi to protest the passage of these laws. Today, the government and the farmers are locked in a months-long standoff, with everyone from the Supreme Court to foreign governments weighing in on the confrontation.

    To discuss the farm laws—the motivations behind them, their likely consequences, and the political fallout—Milan sits down with two experts on Indian agriculture, Shoumitro Chatterjee of Penn State University and Mekhala Krishnamurthy of Ashoka University and the Centre for Policy Research.

    The three discuss the state of Indian agriculture, the motivations behind the new laws, the anxieties that have fueled the protests, and possible compromises that can resolve the current impasse. If you have been watching the protests in India unfold but are struggling to make sense of them, this episode will help you fill in the blanks.

    Episode notes:

    Shoumitro Chatterjee, Mekhala Krishnamurthy, Devesh Kapur, and Marshall M. Bouston, “A Study of the Agricultural Markets of Bihar, Odisha and Punjab”Yamini Aiyar and Mekhala Krishnamurthy, “On Farm Laws, How the Centre Faltered”Mekhala Krishnamurthy, “Modi govt can bring real agriculture reforms only by working with states”Shoumitro Chhatterjee and Mekhala Krishnamurthy, “Farm laws: First principles and the political economy of agricultural market regulation”Bharat Ramaswami, “Constituency for reforms in BJP-ruled states can disprove fears that farm laws are a corporate plot”Shoumitro Chatterjee and Arvind Subramanian, “India’s Export-Led Growth: Exemplar and Exception”
  • One night in the summer of 2014, two teenage girls living in a remote village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh went missing. Hours later, they were found dead and hanging from a tree in a mango orchard. A media frenzy ensued that propelled the case to the front pages of national newspapers and prime time cable news. It was quickly decided that this was another clear-cut case of rape and murder in India’s heartland.

    A haunting new book, The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing, by the author Sonia Faleiro reveals that the truth, however, is far murkier.

    Sonia is Milan’s guest on the podcast this week and the two discuss the origins of The Good Girls, the notion of honor in contemporary Indian society, the pervasiveness of caste in the Hindi heartland, the troubled state of policing, and the battle Indian girls face even before leaving their homes.

    Parul Sehgal of the New York Times has this to say about The Good Girls: “‘The Good Girls’ is transfixing; it has the pacing and mood of a whodunit, but no clear reveal; Faleiro does not indict the cruelty or malice of any individual, nor any particular system. She indicts something even more common, and in its own way far more pernicious: a culture of indifference that allowed for the neglect of the girls in life and in death.”

    Episode notes:

    Parul Sehgal, “A Double Tragedy in India and the Search for Elusive Answers,” New York Times.Rafia Zakaria, “Death in the Mango Orchard,” The Baffler