"Unfinished Business": Ethnic Complementarities and the Political Contagion of Peace and Conflict in Gujarat

Saumitra Jha

NBER Working Paper No. 19203
Issued in July 2013
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Development Economics, Political Economy

I examine how the historical legacies of inter-ethnic complementarity and competition influence contemporary electoral competition and its effects on patterns of ethnic violence. Using local comparisons within Gujarat, a single Indian state known for its non-violent local traditions yet also for widespread ethnic pogroms in 2002, I provide evidence that while towns with close votes in the preceding state elections do predict an increased incidence of ethnic riots, these effects are diminished in medieval port towns that historically enjoyed exogenous inter-ethnic complementarities. Furthermore, unlike other towns where pre-riot electoral competitiveness coincided with historic inter-ethnic competition and where the ruling party reaped well-targeted electoral dividends from the riots, medieval port constituencies exhibited a relative vote swing of more than seven percentage points against that party. These rendered medieval port constituencies marginal constituencies in future elections, which also saw less ethnic violence.

I interpret these results as consistent with the existence of a fundamentally conditional, yet magnifying interaction between electoral competition and local institutions in generating incentives for ethnic violence. Where marginal electoral constituencies coincide with or reflect pre-existing inter-ethnic economic competition, politicians have both enhanced local and state-wide incentives to foster ethnic mobilization and violence. On the other hand, when the focus of electoral competition shifts to constituencies enjoying complementary norms and organizations supporting local inter-ethnic tolerance, this can reduce state-wide incentives for ethnic violence.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19203

Published: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization Volume 104, August 2014, Pages 18–36 Economics, Religion, and Culture Cover image ‘Unfinished business’: Historic complementarities, political competition and ethnic violence in Gujarat Saumitra Jha1, ,

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