BJP-ruled states still more communally violent

In an article posted on the website Newslaundry on 14 October, Rupa Subramanya argues that government statistics do not support the view that “there’s been some sort of upsurge in communal violence since the election of Narendra Modi”, contending that figures that show an increase of 25% in communal incidents in January-May 2015 vs. January-May 2014 are unlikely to be statistically significant.

She also states the following:

This is a reference to my 15 February 2014 blog post titled BJP ruled states more communally violent. In her article, Subramanya asserts that:

  1. These findings are questionable because “one can get just about any result [by] using different start and end dates”; and
  2. The persistence of communal violence among a variety of different states makes it “impossible for a fair minded person to assert that there’s a greater prevalence of communal violence in either BJP or Congress ruled states.”

Note that the original one-and-a-half year old blog post used 2010-13 data because that’s what was available at the time. So let’s be fair-minded and run the analysis with the data used in the Newslaundry piece (2010-January 2015).

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Lo and behold, there’s no change in the ranking of states. Zip, zero. BJP-ruled states have an intensity of communal violence (measured by casualty rates) that is 61% higher than that of INC-ruled states. Note that both INC- and BJP-ruled states are above the national average, which means that states ruled by other parties are, on average, more peaceful. I’d say that debunks the debunker.

Let’s include communal violence data from 2007-09 to include as much information as we easily can. And here is what we find:

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There is some reshuffling in the ranking of the states, but the basic pattern holds: BJP-ruled states have 64% higher intensity of communal violence than INC-ruled states, and 78% higher than the national average. The only states where neither the BJP or INC was dominant thoughout this period are Jharkhand, Kerala and Rajasthan. The BJP was in power for most of the time in Karnataka and all of the time in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The INC was in office in Assam throughout and in Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana) for most of the period.

The Newslaundry piece does note that several states changed government in 2013 and 2014 (and earlier), so let’s focus only on those that have experienced lengthy periods of government by one party.

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(No) surprise! BJP-ruled states still have a casualty rate 73% higher than INC-ruled states, and 60% greater than supposedly polarised Uttar Pradesh (UP) (remember, the UP figures include the Muzaffarnagar riots).

These findings, though robust, need not comprise the whole story. A thoughtful critique would note that the political party running a state isn’t the sole determinant of communal violence, and that factors such as the nature of party competition (Wilkinson 2004), the presence of institutionalised riot systems (Brass 1997), the density of civic ties among communal groups (Varshney 2002) and other contending explanations could also shape levels of communal violence.

A considered critique might also seek to distinguish between low-level communal friction at the level of locality, town or village, and outbreaks of communal violence that go beyond these. Subramanya hints at this in her observations about Uttar Pradesh but appears too focused on trying to fix the responsibility for the 2013 riots on Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to look at this in a considered way.

Instead, we get baseless generalisations about cut-off points, and a digression involving temperatures and climate change. Sorry, Newslaundry, this just doesn’t cut it.

Does Bihar’s kidnapping industry embody “Jungle Raj”?

In a fiery election speech in Munger, Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the coming state election was a choice between “Jungle Raj” and “Vikas Raj”, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance representing the latter.

Modi cited widespread kidnappings in Bihar as an indicator of how lawless the state has been under Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) (JD[U]). Let’s leave aside the obvious objection that the BJP bears some responsibility for this, having run Bihar in coalition with the JD(U) for the past decade. In a heated election campaign, the BJP needs to differentiate itself from Nitish and his newfound ally, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The problem for Modi is that two BJP-run states in the neighbourhood have higher rates of kidnapping, according to data provided in Table 1.6 of the 2014 Crime in India report (released earlier this year by the National Crime Records Bureau):

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As you can see, Bihar sits somewhere in the middle while Madhya Pradesh, ruled for 12 years by the BJP, has a kidnapping rate 61% higher than Bihar’s.

What about the trend line; does it support the charge of “jungle raj”? It certainly seems that Bihar’s kidnapping rate has jumped between 2007 (2.7 per lakh population) and 2014 (6.4 per lakh population). But that’s not the whole story: India’s overall kidnapping rate has actually risen a bit faster in the same period, and Bihar’s share of national kidnappings has in fact dropped from 9.2% (2007) to 8.5% (2014). This may be little consolation for the 3,940 additional Biharis who were kidnapped in 2014 versus 2007, but the chart below is illustrative.

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What’s not clear is if there has in fact been a national upsurge in kidnappings or whether there are technical or procedural reasons that have raised the numbers. But what is clear is that, while Bihar certainly has law-and-order issues, the state’s performance in this particular area has been only slightly worse than the national average.

The charge of “Jungle Raj”, at least so far as kidnappings go, isn’t supported by the data.

Update on Oct 17

The Wire carried this piece:

Does the New York Times really have an India problem?

The New York Times (NYT) has long been a lighting rod for criticism, and things are no different regarding its India coverage and analysis.

Economist Vivek Dehejia for one has criticised what he calls the “rabid anti-India editorializing of today’s New York Times” and attributed it to the “unremitting hostility of the Anglo-American liberal media establishment” towards the BJP.

An analysis on the website Newslaundry examined three NYT op-eds written in the last 18 months and concluded that none of them held up to scrutiny using hard data, and the author concluded that the paper’s editors seemed to “”outsource” stories to who they consider to be India “experts” without the same rigorous fact-checking as US stories.”

So does the NYT have an “India problem”? Between 1 January and 6 October 2015, the NYT carried 49 commentaries about India, of which 18 were written by the NYT editorial board and reflect the paper’s own opinion. Keep in mind that these commentaries are entirely separate from the NYT’s news reporting, and are meant to reflect the opinions of their writers.

And this is what I found:

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The editorial board is clearly critical of government policy, of Modi and of Hindu nationalism, but has also commented on topics such as the national budget, air pollution and Delhi state elections without taking an overt political or ideological position. Note that there is nothing illegitimate in the editorial board taking ideological stands.

The op-eds are, however, more diverse. An overwhelming majority relate to topics that either do not call for a political stance, or the writers choose not to adopt one. There is some criticism of Modi and of government policy, but there is also some support for both. Which means that strong Modi critics like writer Sonia Faleiro do not represent the entirety of India content on the NYT op-ed page.

The paper does, on the other hand, display a clear ideological stance.

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This should not surprise anyone who pays attention. In a 25 July 2004 comment, then NYT Public Editor Daniel Okrent answered the question of whether the NYT is a liberal newspaper with a succinct: “Of course it is.” He added that the NYT editorial page is so “thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Furthermore, he contended that the op-ed editors “do an evenhanded job of representing a range of views in the essays from outsiders they publish”.

The first chart above does show a greater diversity of views among op-ed contributors than in the editorial board, but even op-ed contributions are overwhelmingly liberal in their orientation (in US terms). This arises, to quote Okrent again, because “the paper’s heart, mind and habits remain embedded” in the culture of New York City, and “because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning”. Fans would no doubt consider this a good thing (words like cosmopolitan, progressive and multicultural come to mind), while critics would not (and apply labels such as elite, East Coast establishment, godless). And liberal east coasters are unlikely to be sympathetic to Narendra Modi and Hindu nationalism.

But that might not be enough for those critics who see the NYT on a mission to denigrate Indian greatness. And even though I don’t subscribe to that view (finding the above explanation more compelling), here is some ammunition for them:

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Note that the editorial board has zero “good stuff” to discuss, and the op-ed pages carried all 11 pieces in this category. Hate away.