Special Lecture 1

Lakshmi Iyer (Harvard University) presented findings from a working paper titled ‘Politician Identity and Religious Violence’. The paper investigates whether increasing minority political representation lowers religious conflict; more specifically, whether Muslim political representation lowers the incidence of Hindu-Muslim violence in India.

The analysis connects two streams of the literature, one concerned with the effects of politician identity and the other with the causes of civil conflict. The paper is based on datasets on religious identity of state legislators and extending the Hindu-Muslim riots database (Varshney-Wilkinson) database to 2010. The empirical analysis uses an identification strategy based on close elections between Muslim and non-Muslims to control for unobservable differences in voter preferences and other area characteristics.

The results show that presence of Muslim legislators does not make a statistically significant difference to the occurrence of Hindu-Muslim riots, except in very specific samples. This has policy implication in terms of affirmative action intervention like quota benefit enjoyed by Muslims in India. The paper concludes that perhaps party identity/ideology is more important than personal identity. This is supported by some previous (correlation) studies have linked BJP presence to incidence of riots. The authors conclude that further research is needed to understand if Muslim politicians are effective in preventing riots only when they have an executive role (e.g. ruling party affiliation, minister in state cabinet), if the religious identity of non-elected officials (bureaucrats, police etc.) matter etc.

A comment was received on the terminology used in the paper- replacing the terms ‘communal violence’ and ‘riots’ with ‘religious violence’ will add clarity.

By Farria Naeem, Country Economist, IGC Bangladesh