Signs of Discrimination: The Effect of Political Identity and Party Affiliation on Development Outcomes for Minorities in India.

Amir Jilani

Most modern democracies, in both the developed and developing world, give appropriate emphasis to the rights of minorities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities affirms that states should implement policies and programs keeping in mind the legitimate interests of persons belonging to such minorities (United Nations, 1992). Indeed, a fundamental role of the modern state is to govern impartially by preserving, protecting and assuring the rights of all citizens, including minorities. Unfortunately, few states have been successful in this regard. India, the world’s largest democracy with considerable religious and ethnic diversity, has also been criticized for neglecting the rights and aspirations of its minorities. The Indian constitution enshrines secularism and clearly outlines the responsibility of the state to protect the rights and interests of all religious and ethnic minorities. Yet India’s largest minority group, Muslims, constituting 14.2 percent of the population in 2011, continues to lag behind other groups in terms of most human development indicators (Government of India, 2006).

Although economic and social discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities is common in many developed and developing countries, there has been little empirical analysis to establish the presence of discrimination and/or identify its source. In 2005, the Government of India constituted a ‘High Level Committee’ to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India. The report, formally known as the Sachar Committee Report (2006) was the first report to systematically analyze the socio-economic conditions of religious minorities and Muslims in particular. Although the report clearly acknowledges that the Muslim community “exhibits deficits and deprivation in practically all dimensions of development,” it also admits that further empirical analysis is required to 2 demonstrate the existence of discrimination. The common perception is that Muslims fare worse under national and state governments led by India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than under non-BJP parties. This paper evaluates the veracity of such claims and thus aims to bridge the empirical gap identified by the Sachar Committee.

There is an emerging body of literature investigating the relationship between party affiliation, politician identity and development outcomes. In the U.S for example, Beland (2015) finds that Democrat governors cause an increase in the annual hours worked by blacks relative to whites, leading to a reduction in the earnings gap between black and white workers. In a different setting, Burgess et al. (2011) find that politicians in Kenya disproportionately allocate spending to those districts where their ethnicity is dominant, although this ethnic favoritism attenuates upon the transition to democracy. Similarly, in India, Besley et al. (2011) evaluate the nature of political opportunism in villages in South India and find that politicians use their agenda-setting power to allocate more resources to their own village, relative to other villages. These results suggest that sharing the village head’s group identity provides benefits in terms of accessing public goods. Conversely, Kudamatsu (2007) is unable to identify any signs of ethnic favoritism in Guinea when estimating the impact of the president’s ethnicity on mortality rates across ethnic groups, casting doubt on the notion that policymakers unambiguously favor their own ethnic group. Thus, the effect of politician identity on development outcomes of various communities can vary greatly from one state to another.

The impact of increased representation from the BJP could possibly have a causal effect on a series of economic outcomes for Muslims, including employment in the public and private sector as well as access to social security benefits. In particular, it is important to unravel whether having a larger share of legislators from the BJP results in better, worse, or no difference 3 in development outcomes for the Muslim community. As a credible national alternative to the secular Congress Party (INC) of India, the BJP has historically been accused of failing to provide protection to minority groups as required by the Indian constitution (Varshney, 2014) and of being a fundamentally Hindu nation (Seshia, 1998). This is in part because many within BJP reject special protection for minority religions and call for a uniform civil code that applies equally to all religious communities in India. Moreover, the BJP has argued that differential treatment of Indians on the basis of religion compromises the equality of all groups and citizens. It is with this backdrop that the impact of party affiliation on development outcomes for Muslims in India must be investigated.

Raising BJP representation in India’s state legislative assemblies results in a large and significant decrease in the likelihood of Muslims being employed in both the public and private sector. In addition, amongst the cohort of individuals who are employed, an increase in BJP political representation decreases the likelihood of Muslims having access to social security benefits on the job. The estimates are robust to a number of different specifications, including the addition of individual-level and electoral controls, as well as different margins that define a close election. Moreover, the results indicate that it is not just minorities such as STs and SCs but also predominantly Muslims, and in certain instances, Christians and OBCs, that are adversely affected as a result of BJP acquiring greater assembly power in the state. Finally, it could be argued that there is no evidence that Muslims fare worse when there is an increase in the share of legislators belonging to the Indian National Congress. Future research should therefore explore the channels through which BJP legislators reduce the likelihood of public and private sector employment for Muslims, as well as the effect of politician identity on other important economic outcomes.

(The complete analysis of Amir Jilani can be read here.)

The author is a Senior Research Assistant at International Food Policy Research Institute and a graduate of Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.