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CPR Perspectives: Interview with Rahul Verma

March 14, 2024

This month on CPR Perspectives — our flagship interview series commemorating the Centre for Policy Research’s 50th anniversary — we bring you a conversation with Rahul Verma, a Fellow at CPR, where he leads the Politics Initiative.

Verma is a Political Scientist who earned his PhD from the University of California – Berkeley, with a focus on the role of political parties, ideology and dynastic families in Indian politics. His book, Ideology and Identity: The Changing Party Systems of India, questions the assumption that ideology does not play an important role in the Indian voter’s decision-making.

At CPR, Verma’s work with the Politics Initiative focused on building up a core body of political research, collaborating with scholars to put out reports like Dalits in the New Millennium, and studying voter behaviour through efforts like the YouGov-CPR-Mint Millennial Survey, as well as bringing his Political Science lens to the State Capacity Initiative.

In our conversation with Verma, we spoke about his Political Science background, the thinking behind his research and the motivations to enter the policy world. We also spoke about the Politics Initiative and its various projects, his work with the State Capacity Initiative and Verma’s advice for young scholars entering this world.

You can listen to the entire conversation as a podcast here, or read the whole transcript now.

And if you missed our previous interviews, read our conversations with Partha Mukhopadhyay, Navroz Dubash, Avani Kapur, K P Krishnan, Mukta Naik, D Shyam BabuNeelanjan SircarYamini AiyarArkaja Singh and Mekhala Krishnamurthy.


(This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

What brought you into the policy world? 

I still consider myself at the margins of the policy world. I’m more of a Political Scientist and less of a policy person. So sometimes I do wonder what I’m doing at the Centre for Policy Research. But I believe that to understand the context in which policies are formulated it’s important to get a sense of where the politics is heading, ultimately any sort of discussion on policy, is also contextually dependent on the politics itself. 


And I think that that will be a subject we’ll return to. Still I want to chart the map of your career: how you ended up as a Political Scientist in a policy space. 

A part of me was always interested in Political Science and much more to do with electoral politics. I did my undergraduate studies at Kirori Mal College in Delhi at Delhi University and political science was one of my subjects, though I did not do honours in Political Science. At that point, I wanted to be a journalist. As someone who was growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was fascinated by TV journalism, so that’s what interested me. I was part of the debating society at Delhi University and so that was the first transition into becoming a Political Scientist. Before that, I just had an interest in electoral politics. 

After Kirori Mal College, I went for my masters at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. There is a long story behind that. But I ended up doing my Masters dissertation on the rise of Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and I think that was the second step towards thinking about research in Political Science and especially party politics and electoral politics. 

During my Masters at TISS, I also interned at the Lokniti-CSDS (Center for Study of Developing Societies), where I got the first hand experience of working. I remember it was the summer of 2008 when the Karnataka assembly elections were happening, and that was the first election after the 4th delimitation. And so I got to work with Yogendra Yadav, Sanjay Kumar and the entire Lokniti team. They asked me if I’m interested in continuing my work at Lokniti. I got another opportunity to do an internship in the winter of 2008.

In 2008, four or five states – Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh – were polling and so by that time I had decided that if I get an opportunity to work after my Masters at CSDS, that would be great. Luckily for me, I did get that offer in 2009. During Lok Sabha elections, I was part of Lokniti CSDS team, and luckily for me I also managed to get admission to begin M Phil in political science at Delhi University, because one of my advisors at TISS suggested that if you do want to do a PhD in Political Science, at least one of your degrees should be in Political Science. 

I wrote my M Phil dissertation on why different states in India have different party systems. By this I mean if you look at Rajasthan or MP, these are Congress versus BJP two-party states. Then there were states like UP and Bihar and Tamil Nadu which were multi-party states. So [I worked on] a historical understanding of the evolution of the Indian party system at the state level. In 2008, I also got an opportunity to attend Lokniti Summer School in analysing quantitative data as a participant. Next year, I went to the summer school to help the teaching team. So all of that in some ways consolidated the plan of applying for a PhD program. Luckily again, I got an opportunity to do my PhD at the University of California at Berkeley. Pradeep Chhibber was my dissertation chair, and I had met Pradeep at the Lokniti summer school where he used to come every year to teach. And so that’s what in some ways paved the career trajectory of being a Political Scientist. 


In your head what was the outcome? Did you imagine yourself then staying in an academic space permanently?

I don’t think before starting my PhD I had thought that I would be in an academic world. Elections and polling always excited me. And so the path I thought was that I may end up being another pollster who works on polling data, looks at election trends in newspapers. During that time, while I was doing my MPhil, going to the Lokniti summer school, all of this made me realise that you need training to be able to do things in a better way. 

When I entered my PhD program, like most of the PhD students, I was actually thinking of getting into academia – a university or a college position. By that time I had developed some interest in teaching. Luckily for me –  and perhaps there was another transition taking place in my head whether I wanted to stay in the US or try the job market there, I’m not saying I would have got a job there – someone advised me at the time, saying ‘you know the kind of things you are interested in? Politics is here [in India]. So what would you do sitting in the United States?’ And I thought, this makes sense. 

Luckily for me, I came to Delhi to present my book with Pradeep Chhibber, Ideology and Identity in 2018, and Yamini Aiyar was there for that conference. She asked me if I’m interested in coming back to India and whether I would be interested in joining CPR and working on electoral politics. Yamini had just taken over as the President of CPR in 2017, and she was trying to expand CPR’s research area in certain directions. And by the end of the year I thought now I also have a job to go back to India. And so in December 2018, I was at CPR. This does not mean I completely wanted to leave the university space. Again, I was lucky that during the pandemic year, I was reached out to by some folks at the Ashoka University about whether I was interested in teaching, and I said why not? And perhaps that was the pandemic year and I thought I could do it from home. Let’s try my hand at it. 

The first semester was hard, especially teaching methods on Zoom. I didn’t know whether I was going to continue this, but the second semester, at least part of it was in person. I was teaching Indian politics and that second-half I enjoyed being with students and interacting with them. So, I’ve been also teaching Political Science at Ashoka University for the last three years and I have taught courses on quantitative methods, Indian politics, but also on political parties, political elites and voting behaviour, this semester. 


Could you tell us a little bit about the thrust of your Political Science research starting with the PhD and going forward? What are the questions that have animated your research? 

I’m largely interested in political parties, party systems, voting behaviour, public opinion polling, political representation, and questions of democracy. And all of these are in some ways interlinked. To understand the questions of democracy and political representation, you need to understand the channels which lead to these sort of representative forms of government. So parties coming into the picture, voters coming into the picture.

My first book with Pradeep Chhibber is about ideology – the title is Ideology and Identity: The Changing Party Systems of India. The key question of that book is: how did the Indian party system transition from a Congress dominant system to a more coalitional form, to now a BJP dominant party system? The argument that we make in the book is that Indian politics is deeply ideological, and that contestation has shaped the movement of political parties in the ideological space, which led to the transition of these party systems. You would remember that for a long time the scholarship on Indian politics argued that ideology does not matter. People either vote on identity issues or there are much baser needs, and sometimes parties mobilise using patronage, welfare and clientelism. 

In the book we argue that yes, some of these things are there and they do drive voting choices, but that is not all to Indian politics. There is a deep ideological fracture at the heart of Indian politics, and some of these could be traced back to our independence movement. Through the Freedom movement documents – like speeches of various leaders – you could easily see that there was a divide on certain key issues, such as how to build a new independent India, how to accommodate various sections of society, whether India was going to be a Hindu country or a secular country, whether we are going to use reservations and quotas as forms of social justice. There were many such questions on what kind of role the new independent state was going to play in society. Will it remake the social order or it will use certain other forms to conceive citizenship and society? 

And so we used some of those materials to first lay out what is ideological in the Indian context because in the Western context, economic ideology plays a great role apart from the social ideology, right? But in the Indian context, parties and voters do not sort themselves on economic issues. Most parties agree or they have a similar position on economic issues. It doesn’t matter when they’re in treasury benches versus the opposition. And so in the Indian context, we first laid out what those ideological contexts are and then using survey data dating back to 1967, showed that voters and parties sort themselves ideologically. And finally, we did a rereading of the evolution of India’s party system from this ideological lens.

While I was writing this book, I was also trying to figure out what my PhD dissertation was going to be. Of course, I took many paths, but finally I ended up writing my PhD dissertation on why some families manage to survive for a longer period of time than others. So the key question there is that we focus too much on this question of whether dynastic politics is good or bad and why does India have more dynastic politics. If you do some sort of basic research, you’ll find that all countries have this problem of dynastic politics and maybe in some cases the number of MP’s in the Parliament is going to be around 10 or 12% and in other cases it would be around 25, 30, 35%. So you do have this variance, but for me I was more interested in this: if you look in India there are multiple political families. Some have lasted just for 1-2 generations and while some have lasted 3, 4, 5 generations, and so I wanted to understand what some of these families do, because it starts with an assumption that if people can pass on the power to their kids, they will. So it’s not a question of desire. It’s much more a question of an ability. Why do some families manage to do this versus others? 

And so for this research I largely focused on Uttar Pradesh. I collected or mapped political families in UP between 1974 and 2019 for a 50 year period. I found that there are more than 300 political families that have contested at Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha level and within those 300 families, roughly 100 of them have survived for these 50 years. There are hundreds who have now become extinct. And then there are 100 who have risen only in the last 20 years. And so using these differences between 300 families, why some survive, why some declined and why new political families are rising and what each one’s characteristic basically forms the meat of the dissertation. 

The core argument I draw from, say, organisational behaviour or from literature is that political families that manage to diversify themselves, both politically as well as economically, survive much longer. So diversification is basically a risk mitigation strategy. We focus too much on political families at the top level, right, like either the Gandhis or Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family or Karunanidhi. But every district of India, to my mind, has such political families, and some of them have been there for a very, very long time. So for me, the key question is also to understand that if some of these families have been there for 30-40-50 years, they must be having a great influence on multiple things within their district. At some point, I want to take this project forward as a book. I’m trying to basically add two more things to this UP project. One,  I’m collecting information on political dynasties among Lok Sabha MPs across India for the last 25 odd years and the second, just to put this in a comparative context, I’m basically looking at heads of state across the globe and how many of them came from political families and what the over-time trend across different regions are.

At the moment, I’m also working on a manuscript which focuses on understanding why some parties fail to revive. And the case study for me is the Congress party in India. But I want to make this argument in a comparative sense because electoral losses for political parties are a routine affair in democracies. But if you look at the Congress party’s electoral graph, it has been in a steady decline and any form of revival to my mind is going to be a long haul. And so thinking again from an organisational perspective, what is it about this organisation that it’s not able to shake off, to chart out a revival path. And hopefully, it will get completed in the next few months. 


So to go back to it, you had just started to think of life in the academic world. What convinced you to come to CPR? What was the project at hand? 

The way I have understood CPR is to basically bring in individuals who have some vision about what their area of research should look like and give them a cushion of a couple of years to figure out, build the team and then that itself grows into a body of research at CPR, which can not only sustain itself in isolation, but also adds to each other’s work within the larger ecosystem of CPR. 

To me the most interesting part was a couple of things. One, I think what attracted me to CPR is the group of scholars who were working on multiple things – and very different things. Some of them I didn’t have an idea about and I thought it’s a great place to basically learn about multiple things. I had no idea or little idea about, you know, Climate Change and energy sector and what’s happening there. And so we had a great group of scholars who worked on this area. And you can speak to them and learn from them. Similarly, on Urbanisation and on Accountability Initiative, which works on budgets and other things. So the first interest was to come there for very selfish reasons, to learn or at least get some information about other areas of work. 

The second reason was to, as I mentioned in the beginning, was to carve out your own research interest into a body of work by building a team around that. Neelanjan Sircar, who had joined CPR a couple of years before me, had started doing some work on electoral politics and the idea was to take forward some of the things he had started, but also bring in my own things, like research on public opinion polling and parties and elections and voting behaviour. So, the freedom to carve out a body of work, I think that was the second motivation. 

Third, I think is the public engagement. That is a platform that CPR provides you being at the heart of Delhi. If you are in a university, and this is much more about universities outside Delhi,  you are just having a conversation with your peers either inside the university campus or you’re meeting them at various academic conferences. At CPR you could convene a group of people who are thinking on the same issue but from very different angles. You can speak to journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, policymakers. And so I think this public engaging platform, where various stakeholders on any issue would come together and discuss, I think that was the third attraction point for me at CPR.

And the fourth. I started on January 2nd  2019. But before that I had come in December 2018 for the first CPR Dialogues, and I had yet to sign my formal contract and everything, and those two days – the first CPR Dialogues, where different faculty members or teams of CPR presented their work and you had time to informally interact with some of them –  I thought this is just a fun group of people to hang around with and it would be a good idea to be here. So I think those four were the primary motivations to be at CPR.


To get a sense of your thinking behind this, what made sense for The Politics Initiative to do at CPR versus, as you said, being at a university, doing Political Science in a more traditional setting. What was the task you laid out for yourself? 

Some of it was evolving. Five years is a short period of time to judge. And especially in these five years, we had two years of the pandemic and the last one year CPR has been facing one of the worst crises in its fifty year history, right? So I think from that perspective standing today we can be satisfied that we were building on something interesting and important. 

[We were] trying to understand the political context in which some policies get prioritised and some policies are left behind. Any policy in a democracy should at least reflect the will of the people, right? I was interested in doing these public opinion surveys to get a sense of what the voters and public are thinking. The idea was that slowly there would be cross pollination with other units of CPR and the Politics Initiative. For example at CPR, we did not have a separate initiative that was working on the question of women and their political participation. In fact, three or four of us came together two years ago and we decided to apply for a grant proposal – people from Accountability Initiative, people from the Urbanization team, the Politics Initiative. The idea was that it’s not just feeding into each other’s work, but also working or thinking on certain questions, and where we can think of a whole which is much bigger and more important than each of these consecutive parts? 


Could you tell us a little bit about what you did manage to do over those last few years at the Initiative? 

The idea was that there was not a big body of work on politics at CPR to fall back on and so the best strategy going forward was to also build collaborations and start doing public engagement work such as holding seminars, conferences and talks because you could invite other people who have done work in this area. And then start getting a foothold in this world of policy and politics. So we already had one such collaboration which was with the Trivedi Center for Political Data at Ashoka University. This was something which Neelanjan had started doing – an in-depth election analysis after any major election – and we continued doing that work for the last five years. After every election within 24 to 48 hours, we used to do a very detailed statistical data presentation of what led to this electoral verdict and what the implications of that verdict is going to be. A similar engagement also started with CSDS and CSH and  some talks and conferences got organised under that banner. 

Then on my own I’ve been doing multiple such series and I’m happy to get into some of them, but I would want to highlight at least three of them because they resulted in something. 

So the first. We started doing some closed door roundtable discussions. Because to me, sometimes at public-facing panel discussions people come with certain things to present, and they might also be playing to the gallery. So inviting a set of experts, not just academics, but journalists and politicians, and having a more [open] conversation within the four walls of a conference room on multiple thing. For example, we wanted to figure out how to think about the Dalit community and especially with a lot of things changing for them politically, socially and economically. What does it mean going forward? So that  conversation with 30 people on a single day has resulted in an edited volume with 25 chapters last year, and the title of that volume is Dalits in the New Millennium. We wanted to move away from two things. One, the lens of analysing the community from  the oppressed and oppressor angle, but also focusing on just a single issue or a theme. And so we had five different themes in our book – electoral politics, political economy, what is happening to political culture, what is happening to the questions of ideology and identity, and what is happening to the question of representation and discrimination. 

Second – and this we did during the time of the pandemic – is that political parties in India are going through some visible transitions. Especially state level parties. Many of them had a generational change in their leadership. Some of those parties were not very comfortable with new media and technology, right. And so now that the entire world of information technology is changing, how are they adapting to it? We did a series of workshops every fortnight, each focusing on one state and talking about their political parties and especially state level parties and what they are doing in relation to each other, but also in relation to the national party system or national parties. And so again this was a group of 35-40 people across the country. Some were also doing research in India, but might be teaching in the UK or US. They also used to join this conversation and we managed to put out a report. 

The third kind of collaboration that we succeeded in doing is that I was interested in polling. Data and polling in India gets reduced to these exit polls and election night tamasha. But a lot of opinion polling is very helpful. As is understanding what voters in general are thinking about multiple things. But polling is also a very, very costly exercise and we didn’t have that kind of resources both in terms of a team, but also in terms of money. Luckily we managed to get into collaboration with YouGov and Mint and since then, this month, the 11th round of YouGov-Mint-CPR surveys happened, and the findings get published in the Mint. Every six months we do this survey and the idea is not to just focus on political and voting questions, but ask multiple things to understand the health of the society on different things. 

A similar collaboration happened with CVoter. It’s a very old and reputed polling agency in India. Yashwant Deshmukh and I were talking about 2022 being the 75th year of Indian independence. And so we collaborated together to do a survey in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on the 75th year of Partition and independence. What do Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis think about themselves, where they have reached in 75 years, what they think about their neighbours? And so we launched the India report in 2022 and the comparative report is going to be launched on March 28th, where we’ll compare the three countries. So these were different kinds of collaborations and some of them have resulted in edited volumes or newspaper pieces or reports. 


I understand at CPR you also had a chance to work beyond the Politics Initiative. 

When I came to CPR, of course, the agenda was to be at the Politics Initiative. But in a way, I, from the beginning, was part of the State Capacity Initiative. [When I joined] the State Capacity Initiative was starting and Yamini had already managed to put a team of individuals who were going to be part of it. The State Capacity Initiative was one of the largest teams at CPR. The Politics Initiative was in some way 50% of my time but that was much more of a research interest perspective. That was what I was trying to build. But the rest was as part of the State Capacity Initiative. Some of the things that I did there or learned there were useful to the first few questions that you were asking about – the interaction with the policy world. For example, very early on, I was asked by a district magistrate to help his team in thinking about how to increase voter turnout. And so I visited that district multiple times in the run up to 2019 elections and largely, my role was to show him with data analysis where the turnouts are low, where the turnouts are high what possible factors could be leading to this variation. And this is as close as the political scientist can get to policy – directly working with the government or the state administration on something like this. So the mandate for me at the State Capacity Initiative again was that since I’m by training a Political Scientist, my work is going to understand state capacity and its weaknesses and what we can do to improve it from a Political Science lens. 

The second kind of work at the State Capacity Initiative was to basically be involved in training. And so the State Capacity Initiative used to collaborate with multiple state governments to train their newly recruited officers. Some of them were in the administrative institute, where the Administrative Training Institute and CPID used to have an entire module, sometimes for 15 days, sometimes for almost a month. And so many faculty members at CPR used to go there and talk about their own work. And so I have been to many such training institutes. My role there was to largely present research on elections, politics, voter participation, democracy, and so you could see this as capsule courses that we had designed for administrative cadres of various states. 

The third work that I was doing at this Initiative was to look at local governments, where the state meets citizens. I was interested in understanding local governance, the panchayat system of elections and the dominance and democratisation at that level. We managed to do a few things with that. To start off with an example, I curated an issue of Seminar magazine last year to mark the 30th year of 73rd and 74th Amendment Act and to see how India’s decentralisation story has moved forward: What we have achieved, where we haven’t done right, and what the next 10-15 years of our decentralisation story is going to look like. 

In that sense I had started multiple research projects. Some of them have reached to some conclusion and some of them are still  work in progress. 

So just to give you two cases where we have made some progress:

One was to actually look at the Panchayat Secretaries. Panchayat secretaries have very important roles, ranging from not just organising the Gram Sabha meetings but also registration of births and deaths and other things. And we were surprised when we collected information on Panchayat secretaries. We found that if you look in southern India, most panchayats have one panchayat secretary. But in northern UP, Bihar, many times, a panchayat secretary is looking after six or seven panchayats. And that creates a very serious governance problem at the local level, because these local bureaucrats are overburdened with work. Sometimes you’ll find these local level bureaucrats not properly trained, or perhaps inefficient, or engage in corrupt activities and other things. What we don’t acknowledge is how under-resourced some of these offices are, and how overburdened some of these offices are. So that’s one project. 

The second was actually just looking at the variation in panchayat laws across the country. The decentralisation of panchayat and urban municipalities are state subjects, and different states have different laws governing some of these things. And we’re trying to understand, first, mapping how these laws differ across States, and then thinking about how this difference of variation might be having an impact on governance. 


Do you feel that in the policy space within India, not just at CPR but in the wider policy environment in India there’s sufficient appreciation and understanding of some of the political science questions that you engage with?

Not really. What separates CPR from perhaps other policy think tanks in India – most policy think tanks are single issue focused, or or they might have a couple of different groups working on different themes. But they would still be aligned to one direction of research. What separated CPR from many of these spaces is the multiplicity of issues we were working on. CPR folks like to describe it as a space where imaginative and creative thinking has to flow on its own. And it does not need to be regimented.


I think that takes us to just the last few questions. What are the misconceptions or things that you think people get wrong about your work, about how we understand these things, how it fits into a broader policy environment?

I don’t want to answer this question about my own work in general. What I would like to put here is that now that I’m teaching a course on voting behaviour, I realise that there are more myths and misconceptions than what we think. 

We don’t have a comprehensive body of work on, especially on voting behaviour. I’m pretty sure and very confident that not a single university in this country at Masters level will have a full-fledged course on voting behaviour in India. And so if we don’t have that, you could understand the state of affairs. This is largely to do with, one, a lack of training in empirical Political Science research. At least in India, there are very few people who do this kind of work. Second, when I use the word empirical or data, every time people reduce it to numbers. And I don’t mean empirical or data as numbers, so that’s the level of misconception one has to deal with.

The world of polling or empirical Political Science is completely different in the Indian context than people who do other kinds of political science research. These two worlds are so apart that we don’t talk to build upon each other’s work. A lot of this information gets used in newspapers or TV news channels. But again, there’s no engagement with academic literature.


All right, that takes us to the next question. Especially given that you’re dealing with a lot of younger folks in terms of students, what advice do you give to a young scholar coming up into this space? 

The usual advice. You have to be passionate about the theme or research you are interested in. And I’m at the moment thinking about people who might want to go to policy research centres or think tanks or universities. 

Second, I think it’s important to undergo rigorous training. Which involves reading a lot, and reading also in comparative context, even I would say for people who want to do serious election reporting and political reporting. Reading academic literature and semi academic literature on some of the questions that you want to study. But also getting trained methodologically. Again, I don’t mean by methodological training that you have to know numbers. Our methods and research design are important to understand how you arrived at the answer you arrived at. So that there is basically transparency in the research. There is a difference between an informed opinion and a research based analysis. And I would prefer the latter because then I can see how you arrived at the answer and how convincing I find it. Training is very, very important and again I don’t mean you have to do a PhD, right. But it so happens that in PhD you get to train more than in any other sort of level of education. 

Third, I would encourage you to be less judgmental and more empathetic. And again, when I say less judgmental, I’m not saying don’t have political opinions and political positions. Have it, but when you are trying to understand people, be it voters, be it politicians, be it parties, then you’re trying to study actors. Try to at least think why they are doing what they are doing. What options were available to them, and why they must have done this and not other option? So trying to trace the steps of those actors rather than having a more opinionated position. This is perhaps also what differentiates empirical thinking from normative thinking. 

Finally,  what are three recommendations or suggestions of things that have influenced your career?

I read a couple of interviews of CPR Perspectives and I did know this question is going to come up to me. So I put some time into thinking about it. I couldn’t come up with a couple of books or a couple of people. So I thought: What has shaped me as a political scientist?

My first formal training began at Lokniti CSDS. And so that has greatly influenced me. In the musical tradition, you have gharanas. My feeling in some ways is that I’m from Lokniti CSDS Gharana. That does not mean I continue to sing in that tune. I’ve, of course, been trained there and was influenced by folks from there, starting from Yogendra Yadav and the others Sanjay Kumar, Suhas Palshikar, Sandeep Shastri, Rajeshwari Deshpande. The good point about CSDS was that it wasn’t an office. It’s a network of scholars and I got to meet and interact with this network. Some of them teach at Hyderabad University or University of Kerala or across the country, and some of the folks are also associated with the network who are teaching in US, UK and other places, right? CSDS shaped my thinking about how to create a group of scholars who are collectively going to work on ideas, and also shaped my understanding of Indian elections and party politics.

Over the years I have also met and interacted with many pollsters. While they get berated on Twitter and social media, some of them, like Yashwant Deshmukh at CVoter or Pradeep Gupta at Axis-My India, are fantastic researchers. The kind of information they have in their head about how Indians engage politically is just fascinating. Think of it – someone like Yashwant Deshmukh has been looking at election survey data since 1996, right? 25 years worth of trends is just amazing. 

The second group of people I again have been shaped greatly by would be folks at University of California, Berkeley. Pradeep Chhibber, my advisor, but some of his former students, current students, and many younger folks, folks of my age, who have been working on Indian politics and I got to make some hopefully lifelong friends, starting from Pradeep. In some ways, everyone has influenced me in very different capacities, not just academic. And I think that’s where I would like to separate all my influences. I think I have been also shaped by them, knowingly, unknowingly, how to behave and think as an individual as well, not just on research questions, but how to engage with the wider world. Some of Pradeep’s former students like Irfan Noorudin or Amit Ahuja and then, through that, meeting people like Milan Vaishnav, Neelanjan Sircar, Francesca Jensenius and seeing how they have been thinking about politics, has shaped me a lot. 

And the third, I would say some of the folks at CPR. Each of these three places have a different academic and thinking culture. CPR is basically a very eclectic group of people, right. The group at Berkeley or at Lokniti, it’s all thinking about elections and politics, right. At CPR everyone is thinking very different things. I don’t know a thing about what people in Urbanization or Climate might be working on. But you could learn from some of these conversations. While living in Berkeley doing my PhD, I lived with a mechanical engineer and a computer scientist. This is what also separates Indian universities from universities there. When I was living in Delhi University, you were living mostly with people who are studying Social Sciences. Same at TISS, right. But in Berkeley, I may not know even one percent of what my computer scientist friend would be doing. But at least through dinner time conversations I learned what his research is and why he’s interested in the subject. And so like that, I think CPR has helped me in thinking about very different things which are out of my comfort zone. Not just the faculty members, but lots of young people who have just done their masters and have come out to do an internship or a year of work at CPR like my own team at CPR. It was fun to work and engage with them. So those three places where I have spent the last 15 years of my life and people whom I have met there have influenced me greatly.