"Unfinished Business": Ethnic Complementarities and the Political Contagion of Peace and Conflict in Gujarat
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.
I owe much thanks to Ken Arrow, Susan Athey, Prashant Bharadwaj, Avner Greif, Dan Hungerman, Lakshmi Iyer, Kimuli Kasara, David Laitin, Jessica Leino, Asim Khwaja, Atif Mian, Aprajit Mahajan, Steven Wilkinson and seminar participants at AALIMS, Berkeley, Chicago, Clio, Davis, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Harvard, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Northwestern, Stanford, LiCEP, LSE, MIT, Princeton, the NBER Conference on Religion and Culture, NEUDC, NYU, Rochester, UBC, USC, UWO, the all-UC economic history group and the World Bank for useful comments and suggestions and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, the Harvard Academy, and the Center for Study of Democratic Politics and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton for support. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
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, ,