Under the new BJP government, ethnic violence is less likely

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Prof. Ashutosh Varshney argues that rise (or re-rise) of ethnic disturbance in India because there is now a BJP / Hindu nationalist central government is less likely. The chief reason being that such clashes would be too costly to Modi’s attempt to revive his image and maintain his electoral promises:

If major Hindu-Muslim rioting does return, it will hurt Modi in two ways. First, it will make it harder for him to keep his promise of restoring economic growth to India, which was one of his main campaign themes. Modi is known for advocating an investment-driven model of growth, and massive riots would seriously damage prospects for both private investment and growth. Second, over the last several years, Modi has been striv- ing to put the 2002 riots squarely behind him and to forge a new political identity based on a record of good governance. If riots spread and he is unable to control them, this strategy will come to naught and all the accusations, images, and politics of 2002 will resurface. Not only would Muslims continue to shun him, but many Hindus who gave him their votes based on promises of good governance and economic growth, not on Hindu nationalism, would also desert him. Surveys show that every fourth voter for the BJP voted not for the party, but for Modi. Moreover, his newly acquired international stand- ing, which has taken a long time to build, would also suffer.
Given all this, Modi will likely be opposed to the instrumental use of riots in politics—by the BJP or any other party.

More intriguingly, Prof. Varshney states that while income levels don’t seem to have direct relationship with propensity of rioting (notably, urban india has seen more rioting than rural India), globally and nationally rioting seems to lower with income and economical growth.

[The income] argument, although correct, needs to be qualified in terms of the Indian experience. Two seemingly paradoxical features of Indian riots must be noted. First, Hindu-Muslim riots are primarily an urban rather than rural phenomenon, even though the average income in cities has been higher than in villages. In other words, in India more riots have broken out in higher-income locales. If the urban-rural disaggregation is any guide, higher incomes alone are not enough to predict a decline in violence and rioting.

The second feature of Indian riots, however, goes in the opposite direction. The period of declining riots (1993–2010) in India coincides with a period during which incomes were rising at an unprecedented rate at the national level. But has India yet reached that threshold where ri- ots, as a result of higher state capacity, will definitely decline? Because law and order is a state matter in India, we must look at incomes at the state level in order to answer this question. As one would expect, India’s richer states have not witnessed riots since 2002. And Uttar Pradesh, where riots have returned, is among the poorest states in the country. This pattern does provide some validation for the income-level theory, but firm conclusions on the basis of income per se cannot yet be made.

So, if Modi were seriously to follow a good governance and economic growth agenda, the chances of serious rioting situations would be lower. However, regional incidences (e.g. Uttar Pradesh) are hard to avoid especially since it serves the vested interests of local political parties.


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