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Abstract

Do incidents of ethnic polarization influence voter behavior? I address this question through the case study of India, the world’s largest functional democracy. Specifically, I test whether prior events of Hindu-Muslim riots electorally benefit Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), a prominent Hindu nationalist party? The paper contributes to the literature by being the first to establish a causal relationship between Hindu-Muslim riots and BJP’s electoral performance. Results show that riots have a positive and significant effect on BJP’s vote share and are robust to our instrumentation strategy. The party vote share increases between 2.9 to 4.4 percent in response to different riot outcomes. Results seem to back the theory of electoral incentives i.e. parties representing elites among ethnic groups may have an incentive to instigate ethnic conflict to influence the marginal voter.

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