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The Lokniti Programme for Comparative Democracy was established in 1997 as a research programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. CSDS is an autonomous social science research institute. Founded in 1963 by political scientist Rajni Kothari, CSDS has primarily been involved in studying and understanding the democratic and electoral politics of India and its neighborhood, and much of this has been done through sustained empirical work by scholars of politics. The writings of Rajni Kothari, D.L. Sheth and Ashis Nandy have become a point of reference for various attempts from the South to question the global establishment view of democracy. CSDS has argued in favour of a more humane holistic view of democracy that goes beyond democratic institutions and processes in their narrow sense and emphasizes the survival of dissent and cultural contents of the civil society as central concerns of democracy.

CSDS was one of the first Indian organisations to venture into the field of election studies and surveys long before they became the norm in India. It conducted its first survey-based research of an election in 1965. Since then, CSDS has conducted election studies during almost all national elections and several state elections that have taken place in the world’s largest democracy. In addition to these, it has also conducted several theme-based studies related to Indian politics and democracy. 

Since 1997, CSDS has been conducting survey-based studies through its research programme, Lokniti. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Lokniti programme is that it has brought together over 40 political scientists from various colleges, universities and research institutions in the country and evolved itself into a large network of researchers defining research agenda collectively and doing research collectively. Every state of India has at least one member of Lokniti. Many large states have more than one. Organizationally, each state has at least one coordinator who handles the prime responsibility of conducting the survey work in the state. Many states also have one steady supervisor or a deputy coordinator. If we count both coordinators and supervisors, then Lokniti would have a total strength of almost seventy colleagues across the country. What therefore distinguishes Lokniti surveys from the surveys conducted by other agencies is this academic and non-commercial nature of its set up.

Even as Lokniti's core activity revolves around elections, over the years it has also conducted studies that have gone beyond the electoral arena. Between 2006 and 2012 it conducted a series of public opinion studies in India on a wide range of issues. These were known as State of the Nation Surveys. It has also done three studies on the Indian Youth - two on their overall orientations and opinions (2007 and 2016) and one on their engagement and participation in politics (2011). The other ambitious study launched by Lokniti-CSDS in 2003 was State of Democracy in South Asia - a first-ever field-based collaborative study of democracy and public opinion in five countries of South Asia. In 2013, the second round of this study was conducted.

This long tradition of conducting survey-based studies has meant that today outside Western Europe and North America, the Lokniti-CSDS Data Unit’s holdings might constitute one of the largest archives of social scientific survey data on political behaviour and attitudes, spanning five decades.

Lokniti has always been transparent about the methodology it adopts and every survey conducted by it is accompanied by a note detailing the size of the sample, its profile and the way it was drawn. Given the rigorous methodology with which Lokniti’s survey-based studies are conducted, the findings generated by them are widely acclaimed and accepted in academia and beyond. It would not be an exaggeration to say that scholars and students of Indian politics and democracy have benefitted immensely from Lokniti’s survey data while conducting their research and no discussion of India’s electoral politics is complete without referencing Lokniti’s data.

Lokniti uses diverse platforms for releasing the findings of its research studies. These include the print, electronic and online media, research journals, and academic books. It also uses other means such as workshops, roundtables and seminars to disseminate information regarding its studies. It must be emphasized that CSDS-Lokniti has always maintained neutrality while conducting its studies and does not do studies sponsored by political parties or politicians.

Lokniti is also engaged in organizing an annual capacity building initiative ‘Summer School for Quantitative Methods for studying Indian Politics’. It initially began in 2008 in collaboration with University of Michigan and Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla and after three years, continued as the collaborative activity of Lokniti and Jain University, Bengaluru. The objective of the Summer Workshop has been to bring together a group of political scientists and students from across the country with the aim of providing them an opportunity to improve their skills in quantitative analysis. A special emphasis has been placed on making sense of and interpreting quantitative data on Indian politics.

In 2013, Lokniti launched a peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to Indian politics, Studies in Indian Politics, which is managed by Sage, India.

Lokniti’s activities are funded through various project grants.

Our main objectives are:

  • Monitoring on a regular basis the working of Indian democracy with special attention to the participation of marginalized people
  • Developing a comparative understanding of democratic politics in different historical and cultural settings
  • Engaging with scholars in other parts of the world with a view to creating an alternative to the dominant perspective on democracy in a global context, and
  • Training a new generation of scholars and public intellectuals who can intervene in the discourse on democracy

By bringing various projects of the CSDS on elections and party politics together under a single programme, Lokniti seeks to engage with the global debates on democracy. In an age where globalisation of democracy has come to mean a universalisation of a thin checklist model of managerial governance and cultural homogenization, the worth of a participatory model of plural democracy, a model that recognises multiple paths to realizing the rich ideals of democracy, cannot be over-emphasized.

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