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Cambridge University Press
Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India

Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India

by Steven I. Wilkinson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521829168
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2004
Series: Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics Series
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 5.98(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Steven I. Wilkinson is Nilekani Professor of India and South Asia and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Yale University. Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India was co-winner of the American Political Science Association's 2005 Woodrow Wilson Foundation prize. He is currently researching the links between colonial inheritances and post-independence levels of democracy, governance and conflict.

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Votes and Violence
Cambridge University Press
052182916X - Votes and Violence - Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India - by Steven I. Wilkinson


The Electoral Incentives for Ethnic Violence

In the 1960s Richard Nixon, reflecting on race riots in America, tried to define the difference between riots and other types of violent conflict. "Riots," he said, "are spontaneous. Wars require advance planning."1 My argument in this book, by contrast, is that ethnic riots, far from being relatively spontaneous eruptions of anger, are often planned by politicians for a clear electoral purpose. They are best thought of as a solution to the problem of how to change the salience of ethnic issues and identities among the electorate in order to build a winning political coalition. Unpleasant as this finding may be, political competition can lead to peace as well as violence, and I identify the broad electoral conditions under which politicians will prevent ethnic polarization and ethnic violence rather than incite it. I demonstrate, using systematic data on Hindu-Muslim riots in India, that electoral incentives at two levels - the local constituency level and the level of government that controls the police - interact to determine both where and when ethnic violence against minorities will occur, and, more important, whether the state will choose to intervene to stop it.

Pointing out that there is a relationship between political competition and ethnic violence is not in itself new. Ethnic violence has often been portrayed as the outcome of a rational, if deplorable, strategy used by political elites to win and hold power. Bates, for example, argued two decades ago that in Africa, "electoral competition arouses ethnic conflict."2 And many scholars have since blamed the upsurge of ethnic violence in Eastern Europe in the 1990s on the strategies of ex-Communist politicians like Milošević who used ethnic nationalism to distract attention from their own past sins and their countries' present economic and social problems.3 The organization Human Rights Watch even concluded, on the basis of a worldwide survey of ethnic violence in the 1990s, that ethnic riots and pogroms are usually caused by political elites who "play on existing communal tensions to entrench [their] own power or advance a political agenda."4

There are, however, at least three reasons why I find most "instrumental" political explanations for violence to be unsatisfying. First, because scholars who study ethnic violence generally look at political elites who have incited ethnic violence, they offer us little insight into why some politicians seem to do exactly the opposite and use their political capital and control of the state to prevent ethnic conflict. Why, for example, did President Houphouet-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire respond to attacks on traders from the Mauritanian minority in Abidjan in 1981 by sending police to protect Mauritanians and then going on national radio to praise Ivoirians who had guarded the traders' property while they were under police protection?5 Why more recently in India was Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat so weak in responding to large-scale anti-Muslim violence in his state, whereas other chief ministers such as Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh or Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh were successful in preventing riots in their states?6 Second, many political explanations for ethnic violence fail to account for the variation in patterns of violence within states. In part because elite theories of ethnic violence focus on the strategies and actions of national-level political leaders such as Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević in former Yugoslavia or Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, they cannot explain why, within a state, violence breaks out in some towns and regions but not in many others. Why, for example, when the 1969 riots in Malaysia were allegedly about national-level political issues, did riots break out in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere in Selangor state but not in the states of Penang, Johore, and Kedah?7 Why in India did riots over the "national" issue of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi site in 1989-92 take place in some towns and states but not in others? Third, the role of political incentives in fomenting violence is generally "proven" from the simple fact that ethnic violence has broken out and that some politician gained from the outbreak; seldom are political incentives independently shown to exist and to be responsible for the riots.

My aim in this book is to understand why Hindu-Muslim violence takes place in contemporary India, which necessarily involves addressing three general problems in the instrumentalist literature on ethnic violence.8 First, I want to account for interstate and town-level variation in ethnic violence in India: why do apparently similar towns and states have such different levels of violence? Second, when dealing with the role of the political incentives for ethnic violence, I want to understand the conditions under which the politicians who control the police and army have an incentive both to foment and to prevent ethnic violence. Third, I want to demonstrate that the political incentives I identify as important actually work in the way I suggest, by tracing through individual cases where politicians fomented or restrained violence.

The Electoral Incentives for Ethnic Violence

My central argument is that town-level electoral incentives account for where Hindu-Muslim violence breaks out and that state-level electoral incentives account for where and when state governments use their police forces to prevent riots. We can show that these town- and state-level electoral incentives remain important even when we control for socioeconomic factors, local patterns of ethnic diversity, and towns' and states' previous levels of Hindu-Muslim conflict.

At the local level I begin with the constructivist insight that individuals have many ethnic and nonethnic identities with which they might identify politically.9 The challenge for politicians is to try to ensure that the identity that favors their party is the one that is most salient in the minds of a majority of voters - or a plurality of voters in a single-member district system - in the run-up to an election. I suggest that parties that represent elites within ethnic groups will often - especially in the most competitive seats - use polarizing antiminority events in an effort to encourage members of their wider ethnic category to identify with their party and the "majority" identity rather than a party that is identified with economic redistribution or some ideological agenda. These antiminority events, such as provoking a dispute over an Orange Lodge procession route through a Catholic neighborhood in Ireland, or carrying out a controversial march around a disputed Hindu temple or Muslim mosque site in India, are designed to spark a minority countermobilization (preferably a violent countermobilization that can be portrayed as threatening to the majority) that will polarize the majority ethnic group behind the political party that has the strongest antiminority identity.10 When mobilized ethnic groups confront each other, each convinced that the other is threatening, ethnic violence is the probable outcome.

Local electoral incentives are very important in predicting where violence will break out, though as I discuss in Chapter 2 they are not the only local-level factor that precipitates or constrains ethnic riots. Ultimately, however, there is a much more important question than that of the local incentives for violence: the response of the level of government that controls the police or army. In virtually all the empirical cases I have examined, whether violence is bloody or ends quickly depends not on the local factors that caused violence to break out but primarily on the will and capacity of the government that controls the forces of law and order.

Abundant comparative evidence shows that large-scale ethnic rioting does not take place where a state's army or police force is ordered to stop it using all means necessary. The massacres of Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s, for instance, could not have taken place without the Indonesian army's approval: "In most regions," reports Robert Cribb, "responsibility for the killings was shared between army units and civilian vigilante gangs. In some cases the army took direct part in the killings; often, however, they simply supplied weapons, rudimentary training and strong encouragement to the civilian gangs who carried out the bulk of the killings."11 Antiminority riots in Jacksonian America were also facilitated by the reluctance of local militias and sheriffs to intervene to protect unpopular minorities.12 And recent ethnic massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Burundi were likewise possible only because the local police forces and armies refused to intervene against or even directly participated in the violence.13 Finally, the worst partition massacres in India in 1946-47 took place in those provinces - Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar - in which the elected local governments, each controlled by the majority ethnic group, made it plain at various times that they would not intervene against "their" community to protect the ethnic minority from attack. In Bihar, for example, after anti-Muslim riots broke out in October 1946 the province's Hindu premier refused to allow British troops to fire on Hindu rioters, ignored Congress leaders' complicity in the riots, held no official inquiry, and made only a few token arrests of those who had participated in anti-Muslim pogroms that killed 7,000 to 8,000 people.14

Figure 1.1 The relationship between party competition and a state's response to antiminority polarization and violence: Indian and non-Indian examples (ENVP = effective number of parties)

If the response of the state is the prime factor in determining whether ethnic violence breaks out, then what determines whether the state will protect minorities? My central argument is that democratic states protect minorities when it is in their governments' electoral interest to do so (see Figure 1.1). Specifically, politicians in government will increase the supply of protection to minorities when either of two conditions applies: when minorities are an important part of their party's current support base, or the support base of one of their coalition partners in a coalition government; or when the overall electoral system in a state is so competitive - in terms of the effective number of parties - that there is therefore a high probability that the governing party will have to negotiate or form coalitions with minority supported parties in the future, despite its own preferences.15 The necessity to engage in what Horowitz calls "vote-pooling" in order to win elections and maintain coalitions is what forces politicians to moderate their demands and offer protection to minorities. "The prospect of vote pooling with profit," as he points out, "is the key to making parties moderate and producing coalition with compromise in severely divided societies."16 In India, vote pooling moderates even the behavior of nationalist parties that have no minority support, as long as these parties are forced to form coalitions with parties that do rely on minority votes. On the other hand, politicians in government will restrict the supply of security to minorities if they have no minority support and the overall levels of party competition in a state are so low that the likelihood of having to seek the support of minority-supported parties in the future is very low.

In addition to these three competitive situations, Figure 1.1, lists the Indian states in each category (as of February 2002). Most Indian states today fall into category A, where the presence of high levels of party competition (3.5-8 effective parties, using the effective number of parties or ENPV measure) forces politicians to provide security to minorities because to do otherwise would be to destroy present-day coalitions as well as future coalitional possibilities.17 A handful of Indian states falls into category B, with bipolar party competition (which amounts to 2-3.5 effective parties using the ENPV measure). In 2002 there were four large Indian states with such bipolar patterns of party competition: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Three of these states - Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan - fall into subcategory Bi, in which the party in power in the state relied heavily on a multiethnic supportbase that includes substantial or overwhelming Muslim support. Only in Gujarat in 2002 did we have the worst-case scenario (subcategory Bii) where there were both lowlevels of party competition in the state (2.97 effective parties) and a government in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that did not have any minority support base and therefore had no incentive to protect Muslims. The reaction of state governments to violence in 2002 is predicted almost perfectly by their degrees of party competition and minority support, as I discuss in Chapter 5.

The basic electoral incentives model presented here can easily be extended to account for patterns of government riot-prevention in other multiethnic democracies as well (see Chapter 7).18 In looking at patterns of state riot prevention in the U.S. South, for example, the key explanatory factor that explains greater federal government willingness to intervene to protect African Americans after World War II was the fact that black voters who had emigrated from the South between 1910 and 1950 became a vital constituency for the Democratic Party in several important swing states in the north, such as Michigan and Illinois. This shift (from category Bii to category Bi in Figure 1.1) prompted northern Democratic leaders finally to intervene in the South to protect the civil rights of African Americans.19 To give another example: in Ireland in the 19th century the high levels of Protestant-Catholic violence in Belfast in the early 1860s compared with that in other cities in Ireland can be explained by the fact that the police force in Belfast, unlike elsewhere in the country, was locally controlled by a Protestant-majority town council that did not rely on Catholic votes and therefore had no electoral incentive to intervene to protect Catholics from Protestants (situation Bii). Only once the control of local policing was taken away from the Belfast council in 1865 and transferred to a national administration that was determined to prevent Protestant-Catholic violence do we see a significant increase in the state's degree of riot prevention.

Testing the Electoral Incentives Explanation

One general problem in testing theories of ethnic violence is that in most cases we lack systematic data on ethnic riots or their likely economic, social and political causes.20 There is, for example, no equivalent for intranational ethnic violence of the massive "Correlates of War" project in international relations, which collects data on all international violence from 1816 to 1980.21 In the past decade several scholars have tried to collect detailed data on ethnic violence in the former Soviet Union, where Western security interests, and hence foundation research funds, are substantial.22 But political scientists have not yet matched the efforts of their colleagues in history in collecting basic information about each country's internal pattern of ethnic riots before putting forward theories to explain why they occur in one place and not another.23

A few pioneering collaborative projects have collected aggregate statistics on the largest incidents of ethnic violence reported by the Western media.24 But for my purposes, these surveys underreport small and nondeadly ethnic riots, which account for the majority of incidents in most countries. In India, for example, press data suggest that most Hindu-Muslim riots lead to no deaths and 80% of those riots in which deaths do occur are much smaller in size (1-9 deaths) than would typically prompt a report in the international news media. Moreover, the aggregate data provided by such studies as the Minorities at Risk project, though good for interstate comparisons, do not provide the detailed town-by-town information on violence that would allow us to test many of the leading microtheories of ethnic conflict.

In this book I test my electoral explanation argument for ethnic riots using state- and town-level data on Hindu-Muslim riots in India over the past five decades.25 To address the lack of good data on town- and state-level ethnic violence in India, I utilize a new dataset on Hindu-Muslim riots in India, jointly collected by myself and Ashutosh Varshney, now at the University of Michigan. The 2,000 riots in the database cover the years 1950-95. When combined with a separate database I collected independently for the years 1900-49, the dataset represents the most comprehensive existing source on Hindu-Muslim violence (for full details, together with a protocol explaining how events were coded, see Appendixes A and B). Collecting these data on Hindu-Muslim riots involved reading through every single issue of India's newspaper of record from 1950 to 1995, as well as (for my 1900-49 data) hundreds of reports in other newspapers, official government reports, and archives in India, England, and the United States. Because the resulting data are town-level as well as state-level, and extend back more than a century (unlike Government of India aggregate figures on communal violence, which have only been published since 1954), they allow me to test theories of Hindu-Muslim violence much more completely than has been done before, which should increase confidence in my conclusions.26

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

List of figures; List of tables; Acknowledgments; 1. The electoral incentives for ethnic violence; 2. Explaining town-level variation in Hindu-Muslim violence; 3. State capacity explanations for Hindu-Muslim violence; 4. The consociational explanation for Hindu-Muslim violence; 5. The electoral incentives for Hindu-Muslim violence; 6. Party competition and Hindu-Muslim violence; 7. The electoral incentives for ethnic violence in comparative perspective; 8. Democracy and ethnic violence; Appendices; References; Index.

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