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.

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Manmohan years still most peaceful despite riots uptick in 2012/13

In a pointed analysis on Scroll.in using data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Shivam Vij shows that the rate of rioting in India (per 100,000 population) has fallen continuously since 1992, reaching a plateau around 2003 and remaining pretty much constant since then. Vij is correct that the Manmohan Singh years have been the most peaceful on average since 1963, but it is also true that this level was first reached in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s final year in office.

The Scroll report excludes data for 2012 and 2013, but these are available in the NCRB’s annual Crime in India 2012 (PDF) and Crime in India 2013 (PDF) publications. Incorporating data from those years shows an uptick in riots in 2012, taking the number above the 6 riots per 100,000 population mark, before it drops back down below this level in 2013. This doesn’t amount to anything more than statistical noise, particularly in the context of the larger trends the report highlights.

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A couple of points are worth mentioning. One is that riots here are defined as incidents that are in violation of sections 143-145, 147-151, 153, 153A, 153B, 157, 158, or 160 of the Indian Penal Code. This is different from the Home Ministry’s definition of “communal incidents” that I used in BJP-ruled states more communally violent. To take one example, the NCRB lists 72,126 riots in India in 2013, while the Home Ministry offers a figure of 823 communal incidents for the same year. It is possible that the smaller number is a subset of the larger one (not all riots have a “communal” angle), but we don’t know that for sure.

More importantly, it is also possible that the number of riots is being undercounted. As Rukmini Shrivinasan points out, NCRB data only record the “principal offence” reported in a police first information report i.e. the offence that attracts the maximum punishment. This means that a riot that resulted in a death could be counted as a murder or attempted murder instead. This is common international practice (as NCRB deputy director R Rajasekaran has written), and even in the US only a quarter of all incidents are disaggregated by types of offence (under the National Incident Based Reporting System). There is a programme underway to automate and network crime data collection co-ordinated by the NCRB but when this will happen is anybody’s guess.

BJP-ruled states more communally violent

Following Chris’s response to my previous post, correctly questioning whether it makes sense to use vaguely defined “incidents” to measure communal violence, it took me a while to locate better data. I found some up-to-date statistics on casualties of communal violence in a table annexed to a 10 December 2013 Ministry of Home Affairs reply to a question in the Lok Sabha. This measure, I think, better reflects the intensity of communal violence. The data cover the period 2010 to October 2013.

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The findings are unambiguous: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states have higher levels of communal violence than do Indian National Congress (INC)-ruled states. The BJP-ruled states in this sample have an incidence rate of 4.3 per million, which is 59% higher than the INC-controlled states. BJP states have a casualty rate of 13.1 per million, 56% higher than their Congress counterparts.

Of these states, Karnataka and Gujarat are by far the most violent (remember that Karnataka was run by the BJP during this period). Uttar Pradesh shines in comparison, and that too during a period that includes the Muzaffarnagar riots and excludes the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Someone needs to ask prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi how “good governance” in Gujarat has led to a communal incidence rate 68% higher than the national average and an intensity of communal strife that is 83% higher.

Needless to say the original premise of the Mail Today story is bass ackwards.

Update on Feb 17

Thanks to Tripti Lahiri for pointing out that the 2012 Kokrajhar riots in Assam are inexplicably excluded from the Home Ministry’s table, an omission that others had also noted last year.

To bring Assam in we need to broaden the analysis to all states that had at least one communal violence death during the period under study, which in this instance are Congress-ruled Assam and BJP-ruled Jharkhand.

This adjustment lowers the casualty rate of the BJP states to 12.1 per million, which is still 46% higher than the 8.3 per million of their Congress-ruled counterparts. The casualty rate for states run by regional parties (Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) is lower still, at 5.9 per million.

Update on May 7

The following table incorporates fresh numbers provided by a Ministry of Home Affairs reply to a Feb 5 Rajya Sabha question with data for all of 2013 (the earlier table covered the period between 2010 and October 2013):

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The conclusion is unchanged: BJP-ruled states are still more communally violent than others. BJP states have a casualty rate of 12.4 per million, 45% higher than Congress-ruled states and 70% greater than the national average. Gujarat has a communal incidence rate 70% higher than the national average and a casualty rate that is 82% higher.

How Mail Today got its analysis of communal violence exactly wrong

If anyone needed proof that a course in statistical inference is necessary for journalists, it was provided by this report in the newspaper Mail Today on incidents of communal violence between 2011 and 2013 (written by Abhishek Bhalla).

There was even a tweet:

The main claim in the article was:

The Congress has always found it convenient to attack the BJP for spreading communal hatred in the country, but the Union Home Ministry’s latest data on communal violence is embarrassing for the Grand Old Party.

A look at the Union Home Ministry’s data reveals that there is not much difference between the two major national parties when it comes to the law and order situation in their states.

Exhibit A is this chart:

Of course the total number of incidents of communal violence in a state tells you nothing very interesting about the level of communal violence. A larger state will have more of everything than a smaller one. What you need is the number of communal violence incidents per unit of population.

Once you factor in population the picture changes quite dramatically. The four Congress Party-ruled states had 636 communal incidents between 2011 and 2013. These states had a population of 299 million according to the 2011 census. The three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states had 641 incidents in the same period and a population of 194 million. We exclude the 38 incidents that fall under “other states” since we don’t know which those states are.

The conclusion is pretty straightforward. Congress Party-ruled states had 2.13 communal incidents per million population, while BJP-ruled states had 3.3. The rate of communal violence in BJP-ruled states is therefore 55% higher than in Congress-ruled states.

Exactly the opposite of what the article originally claimed.