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Religious Riots and Electoral Politics in India

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The effect of ethnic violence on electoral results provides useful insights into voter behaviour and the incentives for political parties in democratic societies.

The effect of ethnic violence on electoral results provides useful insights into voter behaviour and the incentives for political parties in democratic societies. Religious riots have claimed more than 14,000 lives in India since 1950. We study the effect of Hindu-Muslim riots on election results in India. We combine data on riots with electoral data on state legislature elections and control variables on demographics and public goods provision to construct a unique panel data set for 16 large states in India over a 25 year period commencing in 1977. We use a new instrument that draws upon the random variation in the day of the week that important Hindu festivals fall on in each year to isolate the causal effect of riots on electoral results. We find that riots occurring in the year preceding an election increase the vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the election. We find suggestive evidence that communal polarisation is the likely mechanism driving our results.