Patterned pogroms: Patronage networks as infrastructure for electoral violence in India and Indonesia

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The regular occurrence of election-related violence between ethnic or religious communities has generated a burgeoning literature on ‘the dark side’ of democracy. This literature provides convincing accounts of how political competition incentivizes politicians to foment violence. Yet such elite-oriented approaches are less convincing in explaining why and how political elites succeed in mobilizing people who do not share their concern for electoral benefits. This article addresses this challenge by relating the capacity of politicians to foment violence to the everyday functioning of patronage networks. Using ethnographic fieldwork to compare violent and nonviolent areas during Hindu–Muslim violence in Gujarat (2002) and Christian–Muslim violence in North Maluku (1999–2000), I find that the informal networks through which citizens gain access to state benefits (‘patronage networks’) shape patterns of election-related violence between religious communities. Politicians succeeded in fomenting violence in areas where citizens depended strongly on ethnicized patronage networks, while violence was averted in areas where state–citizen interaction was organized through networks that bridge religious divides. Interpreting this finding, I argue that patronage networks generate both infrastructure and incentives to organize violence. They provide the infrastructure for violence because their everyday functioning generates interdependencies between politicians and local followers that facilitate the instigation and organization of violence. Patronage networks also generate incentives for violence because when prevailing patronage networks bridge social divides, politicians relying on these networks have an interest in preventing communal violence. When socio-economic changes cause patronage networks to become organized along religious divides, as occurred in the violent areas in Gujarat and North Maluku, divisive political discourse is more likely to resonate and political actors are more likely to benefit electorally from communal violence. In this manner this article provides a novel explanation for both subnational variation in patterns of violence and the hardening of social divisions.




Berenschot, W. (2020). Patterned pogroms: Patronage networks as infrastructure for electoral violence in India and Indonesia. Journal of Peace Research, 57(1), 171–184.

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