Dishil Shrimankar

I am an ESRC post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Politics, International Relations, and Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London. From October 2020, I will be a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the same department. My research interests lie at the intersection of comparative politics, Indian politics and quantitative methods. I am particularly interested in how political party organisations shape, and are in turn shaped by political and economic decentralisation.

My doctoral dissertation explained the puzzle of why regional parties succeed in some Indian regions, but not in others. I argue that existing scholarship in comparative politics has either focused on regionalism or on political and economic decentralization to explain the growth of regional parties. Using quantitative evidence from the sub-national level in India, I show that a hitherto ignored explanation, the level of regional branch autonomy within polity-wide parties, also has a significant impact on the growth of regional parties. When regional branches of polity-wide parties have autonomy, regional parties find it difficult to grow. In contrast, regional parties benefit electorally when regional branches of polity-wide parties are less autonomous. To further account for endogeneity between regional party growth and regional branch autonomy, I use quantitative and qualitative evidence to show that the growth of regional parties is not positively correlated with more regional branch autonomy. This is research is forthcoming as stand-alone paper in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

Currently, as part of my ESRC post-doctoral fellowship, my mentor (Prof Oliver Heath) and I are involved in a project that shows that existing accounts of incumbency effects in India have misinterpreted the negative estimates to imply anti-incumbency. In contrast, we show that Indian political parties and voters are acting rational by rewarding a stronger pool of candidates as opposed to penalising incumbency. We start by replicating past research that has used Regression Discontinuity Design (RDDs) to establish negative causal effect of incumbency on subsequent party vote share. We argue, however, that these findings are spurious, hampered by selection biases. This is because political parties in India do not renominate all their candidates, nor do they renominate them at random. Moreover, we show that renominated candidates perform significantly better than non-renominated candidates. We interpret this to be strategic behaviour on part of the parties. Furthermore, we also demonstrate that challenger parties renominate a stronger pool of candidates in comparison to incumbent parties. This imbalance across incumbent and challenger parties’ downward biases the incumbency effects.

As a separate project led by Dr. Diego Maiorano, we have recently concluded collaborative research which presents a novel, survey-based method to measure people’s empowerment across different domains of their lives. Unlike existing methods, our empowerment score not only includes direct measurement of agency as a key indicator of people’s empowerment, but also looks at the reasons why people exercise (or do not exercise) their agency and the role that prevailing social norms play in determining their ability to make strategic life choices. The method has the important advantage of being simple to implement and it is based on a very short questionnaire. We suggest two possible ways to use our measurement. First, we empirically validate of our measurement using original survey data from two Indian states to construct an empowerment score that we use as dependent variable to evaluate the impact of the world’s largest workfare programme, India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), on the empowerment of lower caste men and women. We find that participation in the programme is associated with an increase in our empowerment score. Second, we apply the Alkire-Fosters method to measure empowerment levels and decompose the index along a number of dimensions that provide important information to policymakers.

As part of the 2019 National Election Study, I co-authored (with Pranav Gupta) a paper on the role of nationalism in helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win elections in India. We empirically demonstrate the role Balakot air strikes play in shifting mainstream discourse towards nationalism, and how it proved to be instrumental in the BJP’s mammoth victory in the 2019 elections. We argue that nationalism tends to operate as a bridging issue, i.e. it allows parties to mobilize new voters without displeasing its core support base.1 Apart from helping get swing voters, the salience of nationalism and national security may have enthused the BJP’s traditional supporters and motivated a large proportion of them to get out and mobilize votes for the party, in addition to merely voting for it. We show that while the BJP consistently makes conscious efforts to raise issues related to nationalism and national security, their electoral salience is partly contingent on relevant external trigger events. Such events can generate a momentary shift in public narrative which often persists if the moment is capitalized by the benefitting political party. The paper is published in Seminar (

Prior to joining Royal Holloway, I was an Assistant Professor (Teaching Focus) in the School of Politics and International Relations, where I also obtained my PhD. I have led modules on comparative politics, quantitative methods, and party systems in India and around the globe.

Finally, my Leverhulme project will be the first large-scale study of local candidates in the world’s largest democracy: India. It seeks to understand what role local representatives can play in helping to mitigate ethnic polarisation along religious and caste lines by promoting the representation of cross cutting identities defined by locality. Scholars studying electoral behaviour in western democracies have found that politicians tend to receive additional electoral support in areas close to their place of birth or residence. However, we know very little about the above relationship outside the West or how localness interacts with other narrower identities in polarised settings.


Dr. Dishil Shrimankar

ESRC Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Department of Politics,

Royal Holloway


Online Profile:


Major Publications


Shrimankar, Dishil (2020), “Why do regional parties succeed at the sub-national level in India?”, British Journal of Politics and International relations. (Accepted/In Press: 7467 words).

Gupta, Pranav and Shrimankar, Dishil (2019), “How nationalism helped the BJP in the 2019 Indian general elections”, Seminar: 720.