Does religious identity of India’s state legislators influence development outcomes?

An interesting paper by Sonia Bhalotra, Guilhem Cassan, Irma Clots-Figueras and Lakshmi Iyer.

One usually thinks the state legislators generally tend to favor their own religion people and much of the development programs are designed (explicitly and implicitly) to serve one’s own community. After all it is the same community which elected the legislator. This paper says it is not really the case. They study the development outcomes based on religion of state developers and say muslims do a better job compared to non-muslim identities. Moreover, the outcomes are felt across communities and not just limited to muslims:

This paper investigates whether the religious identity of state legislators in India influences development outcomes, both for citizens of their religious group and for the population as a whole. To control for politician identity to be correlated with constituency level voter preferences or characteristics that make religion salient, we use quasi-random variation in legislator identity generated by close elections between Muslim and non-Muslim candidates. We find that increasing the political representation of Muslims improves health and education outcomes in the district from which the legislator is elected. We find no evidence of religious favoritism: Muslim children do not benefit more from Muslim political representation than children from other religious groups.


Why is this the case?

Why are Muslim leaders more effective than other (primarily Hindu) leaders at delivering improvements in child health and education? One plausible explanation is that Muslims have stronger preferences over publicly provided services essentially because they are, on average, poorer and so more reliant upon them. However, we might then have expected to see larger gains to Muslim households. So, the preference hypothesis needs to be combined with barriers to targeting benefits to Muslim households in order to explain our results. Perhaps Muslims are not sufficiently residentially segregated for targeting to be feasible, or perhaps there are political incentives for Muslim politicians to avoid showing favor for members of their own group. Muslim leaders may act strategically to attract votes from the non-Muslim community, who constitute the numerical majority in most constituencies. A different possibility, consistent with Muslim leaders representing the interests of Muslim citizens, is that they prioritise reducing Hindu-Muslim conflict, and equal provision of public goods is a means to this end.

As far as my know how is concerned, muslims aren’t really segregated residentially. Most places one sees they staying in areas which are predominated by muslims which is seen as a huge issue  as well.  Need to see the data properly.

It will be more interesting to break the non-muslim category into reservation and general catogories as well. Do we see similar findings?


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