Friday, 27 May, 2022
HomeOpinionCommunal riots help parties like BJP. But not for the obvious reasons

Communal riots help parties like BJP. But not for the obvious reasons

The BJP is a party that trades most in a sense of majoritarian grievance and most relies on Hindu votes to push first past the post.

Text Size:

In the aftermath of the Delhi riots, one question has often been asked, sometimes rhetorically, and sometimes with true questioning: which political party does this help, and who is most likely to be complicit in their production? Political scientists, both theorists and empiricists, provide some answers to this question, but the answer isn’t always obvious.

The short answer usually is: riots help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party that trades most in a sense of majoritarian grievance and most relies on the consolidation of Hindu votes to push first past the post. There is some evidence to back this.

Analysing close assembly election races between 1962 and 2000, Yale economists Gareth Nellis and others concluded in a 2016 paper that a Congress candidate winning significantly lowered the likelihood of a riot breaking out. This, the authors found, was the result of Congress candidates’ dependence on Muslim votes to win elections, and the apprehension of religious polarisation if riots were to break out. This apprehension was well-founded in their dataset; a riot breaking out raised the probability of a BJP candidate winning in the next election.

Also read: Both Hindus and Muslims want development. But that’s where the similarity ends

State-level variation in riots

But why then don’t riots break out in all states of India?

In his seminal book on the interactions between electoral politics and ethnic riots, Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India, political scientist Steve Wilkinson argued that “democratic states protect minorities when it is in their governments’ electoral interest to do so”. So, the government in charge protects minorities either when they are an important part of their current support base (or a key coalition partner’s) or when the electoral politics of the state is so competitive that the political party cannot afford to forego minority votes.

Wilkinson says that his model explained much of the state-level variation in violence in the post-Babri riots, and then in 2002: “states with substantial minority representation in government and/or high levels of party competition, such as Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan seemed to do much better in controlling the communal riots that erupted in 2002 than those states such as Gujarat where there was low party competition or minority representation in government was minimal”.

Also read: Why Jungle Raj Bihar kept out communal riots for 3 decades but Delhi and Gujarat couldn’t

The 2020 Delhi riots

Where do the 2020 Delhi riots stack up in comparison? Delhi has also exhibited low levels of party competition, as defined by Wilkinson; since 2015, this has effectively been a two-party state.

In Wilkinson’s model, the relevant level of government to analyse is the one that controls the police and/or the Army. According to most post-election polls, Muslims were an important part of the support base of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that governs the city-state, but not that of the BJP that governs at the Centre.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

The BJP does not court Muslims in constituencies with significant Muslim population, but the party is more likely to need non-Muslims to rally strongly behind it to win.

Northeast Delhi, where the riots broke out, has the highest share of Muslims (around 30 per cent) among all constituencies in Delhi, and in February 2020, the BJP was unable to get the non-Muslim voters to fully rally behind it.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

How does Delhi, with 13 per cent of its population Muslim, do in terms of minority representation?

At the state level, just 7 per cent of MLAs in the state are Muslims, but one minister in the seven-member cabinet is a Muslim. None of its seven MPs, all of whom belong to the BJP, are Muslim, and at the national level, Muslim representation is at the lowest ebb.

Graphic by Soham Sen | ThePrint

Another research supports the presence of Muslims in positions of power as being an important bulwark against violence. Analysing state assembly races between 1980 and 2007, economists Sonia Bhalotra and others have found that raising the share of Muslim politicians in state assemblies resulted in a sizeable decline in the incidence of Hindu-Muslim riots.

However, since 2014, the presence of Muslims in positions of power in the state cabinets has steadily fallen.

Also read: Delhi riots neither designed by Modi govt, nor Islamic conspiracy. It’s far more dangerous

The author is a Chennai-based data journalist. Views are personal

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Fake narrative alert! Lutyens Lobby at work. The readers are advised to take this article for it’s entertainment value only.

  2. Blaming Hindus or any group supporting the cause of Hindus for the problem faced by muslims or even by some dis-advantages sections of sections of the Hindu society has been fashionable. This narrative has been forcefully spread by the leftists and journalists subservient to ruling dynasty . They conveniently forget that the Hindus lost political power from Delhi at least 800 years ago , in 1191 A.D and subsequently from different parts of India . Who were ruling India , one need not tell . Those who were ruling India are given clean chit by historian of Nehruvian ideology .What was their role and responsibility ? For making a future peaceful and tolerant society the lies need to exposed. The Britishers and Congies of Nehruvian dynasty wanted to perpetuate their vise-like grip on India by exploiting fault-line of caste and religion . They were successful to a large extent . But काल {Time } has its own चाल {momentum } . But wind of change can not be stopped by creating walls of papers for ever. The times have changed. technology has changed, so have the mindset of new generations. Communalism, regionalism , are their last legs. Scientific temper will succeed , not sycophancy, not fake victimhood.. Stop writing and publishing this type of articles.

  3. There were very ugli riots in Maharashtra in 1992, 1974, 1987 , Also very ugli riots in Bihar in 1987 in Bhagalpur. But Author is interested in Fake narrative. She also lies about percentage of minorities in government administration. Gujarat has much better representation of Muslims than in Bihar. But her fake report says ” states with substantial minority representation in government and/or high levels of party competition, such as Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan seemed to do much better in controlling the communal riots that erupted in 2002 than those states such as Gujarat where there was low party competition or minority representation in government was minimal”. FAKE NARRATIVE. !

  4. Muslim Victim card in Dubai

    I was recently in Dubai on a holiday trip and stayed there for four days. While in Dubai, I could not avoid seeing the Indian shopping district of Meena Bazaar and Gold Souk. A big percentage of minor store owners in Meena Bazar appear to be people of Indian origin, but their long shirts told me mentally that they were from Pakistan or Afghanistan. I was right, the majority of the street hawkers were Pakistani origin. Only a few came from India and set up tiny businesses to sell everything which a tourist from India would need to take it back. Most Indians are construction labor. From the street shops, I also purchased two scarves which the hawker said were Kashmiri but not true. In Gold Souk, a majority of the larger shops were Arab owned and a few were owned by Bombay Sindhis and others. Street hawking was being again practiced by people with long shirts, most likely Pakistanis.

    Now the vital point, – we did stop to check out a few items. As we began conversation in a street store, I had guessed right that he was a Pakistani. While we were bargaining on the price, he politely asked us about our country of origin, which we said Canada. In the next breath I told him that I had arrived here from Delhi. As soon as I said that, his manner of conversation changed. He immediately asked me – why are Muslim being killed in Delhi? I immediately said that it is the other way round. More Hindus have died than Muslim in the riots and I dropped the item which I was planning to buy and moved aside. I did not shop on that street at all and moved to the next street. It was not any different atmosphere elsewhere. There was a certain amount of hostility in those people’s minds as they asked and we told them that we came from Delhi. I did not wish to shop anymore. I do not know whether others were facing the same hostility or not. After a couple hours, it was lunch time and I went to ask a person walking on the street whether there is a vegetarian restaurant in the vicinity. Him with a frown said that there is one a bit farther off. He started to lecture me very briefly that it is a Muslim country, hence vegetarian food is scarce. I thanked him and moved on.

    Two days earlier, we were picked up by a taxi at the cruise docks and taken to the hotel. Hotel checking-in time was 2.00pm, hence we unloaded our baggage and left it in the care of the handler and went shopping. We asked the same taxi driver, whether he would drop us at the nearest shopping mall and we will pay extra. He said, it was his Nawaz time and he could not take us anywhere. We have to find another taxi. That we did, but it was an effort as the next taxi driver was also going to his Nawaz ritual and would not take us. The hotel reception had to call a taxi which took us to the shopping center.

    When reminiscing a few days later, I found that there is a definite amount of hostility here to non Muslim especially if you are from Delhi. The media here had blown up the victim card disproportionately. They had been watching BBC and Al Zazeera news channel where dishonest reporting had resulted in majority Muslim in Dubai been told that Muslim have been killed in Delhi. They had no knowledge that a greater number of Hindus had been killed during rioting. That is the power of dishonest reporting.

    Visitors to Muslim countries, watch out for propagandist type of questions.

  5. If Hindutva party’s gain after communal violence then why Jansangh( Precursor of BJP) and Hindu Maha Sabha dint win power after 1947 partition!! Because Hindus were ignorant and kept in dark by leftists and congress along with writers like above , now Hindus are realizing the danger of Islam and leftists and Hindus got a committed leader like Modi , go and preach your nonsense secularism to Muslims in Pakistan and Kashmir, first they will take you and then your daughter, in Sha Allaha

  6. how dumb you have to be in order to conclude this? how would BJP benefit when elections are over (just 15 days back). Ppl would forget this in 5 years. sometimes data doesnot explain stuff. Pol Sci torture data to get their fixed outcomes

  7. Are the Indian political analysts such buffoons that the media does not trust them and have to quote the Yale economists Gareth Nellis, political scientist Steve Wilkinson and economists Sonia Bhalotra (an Indian possibly based in US). More than likely these people are given a one sided view of the things just as the great Farid Zakaria interviews only the likes of Rana Ayyub and the NDTV their own lot to protect the bosses.
    Congress ruled this country since independence and the short cut for remaining in power was to cultivate sycophants from all walks of public life, reward them with free bees out of tax payers money and allow them to indulge in all types of dubious activities to enrich themselves.
    Until 2014 whoever else come to power did not do much else, all had their nests to feather and protect. When this formula became less effective the secular angle was added including in the constitution and communal support was sought by roping in the radical elements. This has resulted in the radical elements now becoming main stream. The basic fear post 2014 is the likelihood of these feathered nests getting blown up.
    Does the number of quotes from the GORAs in parliament and out side show a bankruptcy of our thought process or is it just a way of displaying oneself as something above the ordinary beings.
    The BJP is a party that trades most in a sense of majoritarian grievance and most relies on Hindu votes to push first past the post. The thieves of the past are in minority what they are trying to do is add the religious minorities to their lot so they become a sizable block.
    Is democracy not a rule of the majority ? Were the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution so naive that they did not understand the full implications of the first past the post ? The corrupt manipulative self serving minority which managed to rule and loot this country for 70 years is not comfortable with the realization by the majority of the people so they call it majoritarianism as if it is a curse to the democracy.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular