Bulutugil, H. Zeynep, and Neeraj Prasad. 2022. Inequality, elections, and communal riots in India. Journal of Peace Research. (Author order alphabetical, equal contribution implied)

How does inequality within and between ethno-religious groups influence the likelihood and frequency of communal riots? Using evidence from India, this article finds that low within-group and high between-group inequality dampens the likelihood and frequency of communal riots. Theoretically, the article suggests that the instrumental logic, which posits that ethnonationalist politicians use violence to stoke ethnic cleavages and mobilize support, best accounts for this finding. We argue that to be politically competitive, ethnonationalist politicians need their supporters to identify foremost with their ethnic identity. When inequality within groups is high and/or inequality between groups is low, citizens are less likely to focus on ethnicity as their primary identity. In such contexts, politicians may use communal riots to improve their electoral prospects by reinforcing the salience of ethnicity. Empirically, the article relies on a time-series cross-district analysis of inequality and Hindu–Muslim riots in India to test the instrumental argument against theoretical alternatives. To illustrate the causal logic, the article also uses the analysis of a communal riot that occurred in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Analyzing three aspects of the riot – background conditions, timing, targets of propaganda – we evaluate the different predictions of the instrumental argument. The article concludes with the suggestion that communal riots are distinct from cases of mass violence – such as civil wars, genocide, and ethnic cleansing – and could be conceptualized, along with other types of small-scale political violence, as a separate class of events with their own internal logic.


Bulutgil, H. Zeynep, and Neeraj Prasad. 2020. “Inequality and Voting among Deprived Ethnic Groups: Evidence from India.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 30 (2): 221–43. (Author order alphabetical, equal contribution implied)

What are the conditions that determine the electoral success of parties that champion deprived ethnic groups? What is the impact of within-group inequality on this outcome? Existing arguments focus on the role of institutions or the relationship between ethnicity and other social cleavages. This paper contributes to the second approach by studying the impact of within-group as well as between-group inequality on ethnic voting. We use elections to state legislatures within India to control for institutional and historical factors that may influence ethnic voting. Using data from the National Sample Survey, we calculate inequality in consumption expenditure. We show that high within-group economic inequality among deprived ethnic groups hinders the electoral success of parties that champion these groups, whereas high between-group economic inequality has the opposite effect. Our findings also identify a potential causal mechanism (preference heterogeneity) that might link within-group inequality to ethnic voting.