November, 2015

The Trivedi Centre for Political Data: Making sense of India’s politics through numbers

The focus of the Centre is India’s political life and the sociological profiling of its actors

By Gilles Verniers

The transparency of public life depends on the availability of reliable information. The fact is that today there is a dearth of open-access data on India’s political life, depriving scholars, journalists, policy makers and activists of the source material they need to do their job. Filling that void and contributing to empirical research on Indian politics beyond our own limitations are the two main motives behind the creation of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data. As such, it is conceived as an act of public service.

The Centre was set up at Ashoka University to build authoritative knowledge and datasets on India’s political life, and to diffuse this knowledge and data through an open-access platform. It also aims to provide data and technical support to research scholars and institutions, civil society and public organisations working in the area of public transparency, citizenship and the reinforcement of democratic institutions.

The focus of the Centre is India’s political life and the sociological profiling of its actors. So far, it covers Indian elections and elected representatives, the upper echelons of India’s bureaucracy and of the judiciary.

As of now, the Centre has digitised all Indian elections results from 1962 to the recent Bihar elections. It is in the process of augmenting this data with candidates’ profile data (socio-demographics, assets, individual political trajectories) and the coding of individual incumbency for 15 states. Prof. Sudheendra Hangal (Associate Professor of the Practice in Computer Science) and Venkat Prasath, Research Fellow at the Centre, are developing tools to clean and code political data more effectively.

The Centre also monitors and covers state and general elections in India. A team of scholars, Young India Fellows from Ashoka and technical experts have recently built the most comprehensive dataset currently available on the Bihar elections. Electoral analysis done by the Centre has been published or featured in Mint, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Scroll.in, The Economic Times, and Outlook. The work conducted on the Bihar elections will be presented in a conference at Sciences Po in Paris, in December 2015.

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The Centre also provided data and cartographic services for various academic publications, notably in the 2014 Elections special issue of Contemporary South Asia. That work will continue in the spring for the West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puduchery elections.

A lot of this work is done through partnerships. The Centre collaborates with Sciences Po, Paris and Lokniti, CSDS, to build a comprehensive dataset on the profiles of MPs and MLAs across 15 states. This effort will provide the empirical base for a collective volume on the changing profiles of MPs and MLAs, a book co-edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, Sanjay Kumar and Gilles Verniers.

The Centre has started weaving a network of scholars who will either work or contribute to the Centre’s data. From a more long-term perspective, it also aims at developing a survey design capacity, in collaboration with its partners at Yale (Department of Political Science) and the University of Michigan (Institute for Social Research). Work is also on to develop a partnership with the Election Commission of India, to reinforce the research capacity of its Indian Institute of Democratic and Election Management (IIDEM). It is also building a partnership with the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, to conduct joint research on recent batches of IAS officers.

Since September 2015, the Centre has held four guest lectures, with Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot (CNRS, Sciences Po, Paris), Vinay Sitapati (Princeton), Dr. S.Y. Quraishi (former CEC), and Andrew Claster (Deputy Head of Data Analytics for the Obama re-election campaign). It recently hosted a panel discussion on the Bihar election results.

The Centre is expected to grow rapidly and to increase staff through the creation of affiliate positions for scholars, who can visit Ashoka and collaborate with the Trivedi Centre at the same time. In time, the aim is to make the Trivedi Centre for Political Data the go-to destination for all those interested in comprehensive data on the Indian political machinery.

(The writer is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ashoka University)

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