On the road again


Having been done with the ‘low’ ethnic violence case in West Bengal’s Alipurduars district, the survey experiments now takes me to the ‘high’ ethnic violence areas in northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As part of the research design, the survey team and I are visiting two state legislative constituencies in each state. Sitapur and Sindhauli in UP, Jhanjharpur and Rajanagar in Bihar. Both legislative seats lie in the same district, Sitapur in central UP and Madhubani in north Bihar. A district is roughly equivalent to a county in the US/UK parlance. Both Sitapur and Madhubani have consistently seen high instances of ethnic violence against Scheduled Castes & Tribes over the last ten years, in fact,  one of the highest in their respective states (data: National Crime Records Bureau, India). 

Why these specific seats in these two districts when there were several other districts in UP and Bihar with comparable levels of ethnic violence? It comes down to political competition. Sitapur and Madhubani, and all four seats, especially, have experienced the closest electoral margins between the winner and runner up in the last three election cycles. The ENP (effective number of parties; data – Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University) in these four seats have also been higher than seats in comparable districts. Not having a popular longtime incumbent – a top echelon leader of a major political party in the ballot have contributed to avoiding electoral blowouts in these seats. 

The final wrinkle: one of the seats in the selected districts is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates while the other being upto to candidates from any ethnic identity. The reservation, mandated by the Election Commission of India and based on local ethnic composition of Scheduled Caste population, forms a quasi natural experiment. The setup allows us to additionally study whether reservation of electoral seats for specific ethnicities have an effect on voting decisions when faced with differing incentives from candidates; and with different ethnic backgrounds of candidates (which they don’t in actual elections). 

So here we go! Fingers crossed for a great trip, meeting some amazing people and hopefully get a closer look at interesting human behaviour. 

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