Saumitra Jha on Commerce and Peace

Shruti Rajagopalan and Saumitra Jha discuss the inverse relationship between trade and ethnic violence

In this episode, Shruti speaks with Saumitra Jha about medieval ports, competition versus complementarity, marriage endogamy, the effect of military experience on the prevalence of violence and much more. Jha is a professor in the political economy group at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a senior fellow at the Center for Democracy, Development and Rule of Law in the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Affairs. He also convenes the Conflict and Polarization Lab within the Stanford King Center on Global Development. His research focuses on understanding the effectiveness of organizations and innovations that societies have developed to address the problems of violence and political risk in the past and to develop new lessons for contemporary policy.

SHRUTI RAJAGOPALAN: Welcome to Ideas of India, where we examine the academic ideas that can propel India forward. My name is Shruti Rajagopalan, and I am a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Today my guest is Saumitra Jha, who is the associate professor of political economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. We talked about his research on the kinds of rules, organizations and norms that emerge to foster long-term peace; how trade increased inter-religious tolerance in South Asia; complementarity and competition between ethnic groups; modern-day religious tensions in modern-day Gujarat; Indian exceptionalism and nonviolence and more.

For a full transcript of this conversation, including helpful links of all the references mentioned, click the link in the show notes or visit

Hi, Saumitra. Thank you for joining us.

SAUMITRA JHA: Thank you very much for having me.

Trade, Tolerance and Ethnic Conflict

RAJAGOPALAN: I wanted to look at some of your work on the long arc of the relationship between commerce and peace. In particular, I want to start with your APSR paper on trade, institutions and ethnic tolerance. One of the things that you find, which is super interesting, is the long-run impact of whether an area had a medieval port—that was a functioning medieval port with Muslim-dominated trade routes—you find that those areas are more ethnically mixed, but they tend to be less prone to Hindu-Muslim violence and by a significant amount—five times less in some cases, in terms of modern-day violence.

The relationship that you point out is between trade complementary versus trade competition. That’s the driving mechanism for this work. You also find, in a related paper about the Gujarat riots, once again, areas that used to be medieval ports, even if they’re not functional ports today, far less violence and also less severe violence. In fact, they also have far greater tolerance, which you find because they punish the dominant dispensation, which was the instigator of violence, by giving them a lower vote share after the Gujarat riots are over.

I find this interesting because the long-term peace in this area hinges almost on a historical accident. It almost feels like there’s very little in control of what we could do today, other than having had long-term peaceful relationships. That’s one part that I want to dig into.

The other part is this idea of competitive versus complementary skills while trading between ethnic groups because that’s the condition for peace. Can you just tell us a little bit more about how this works historically and what implications this has for modern-day ethnic violence—this trade relationship, which may or may not exist today?

JHA: Firstly, I think that actually these things can be created. I think that there are policies and there are groups that actually use these ideas in a variety of different ways. If I may, I’d love to return to that. If you look through history, there are places which just have been incredibly tolerant, and it wasn’t necessarily preordained that that would be the case. They are tolerant among specific communities, not necessarily in general as well. I think the issue, though, is what we can learn from those environments is, what are the conditions under which you can have religious tolerance or ethnic tolerance? But also, what are the things that people do to reinforce that?

I think what I found which is really interesting, going to a number of these port towns, was oftentimes the answers were quite different. Just briefly, as I mentioned in the studies, it’s fairly well understood that Muslims dominated Indian Ocean trade all the way up to China. And largely, this had to do with the fact that for one month every year for 100 years, Mecca was the largest market in the world for certain products. And there are other pilgrimage roots to Cairo, Fustat, to Basra, and these used to coordinate trade, and you had to largely be a Muslim. You had to be a Muslim to go to Mecca. That made it a big advantage for Muslims, and they ended up dominating trade.

One fun part of this study was that I got to read all these medieval travelers’ narratives. One person whose record really stuck with me is this Italian called Ludovico di Varthema. Ludovico, he’s from Rome, and he got the travel bug, and he decided to try and go to Mecca. He pretended he was Muslim, and he went to Mecca, but then he got exposed as a Christian, and then he got sold into slavery. He ended up working on a boat owned by a Persian ship owner. He basically traveled around the coast to the Middle East and then to India, and that’s why he’s left a good understanding of what was going on in these medieval ports because they just went down the coast and talked about what he saw there.

He eventually escapes, and he returns to Rome, and he talks about his account. It brings home the fact that you couldn’t be a non-Muslim and be in Mecca. If you were, you might end up like Ludovico. I think one thing that he noted and other contemporaries noted was that there was this remarkable amount of tolerance. Even Shaykh Zainuddin Ma’bari, he wrote a book called “Tuhfat al-Mujāhidin”—“The Gift to the Holy Warrior.” This is not a book about peace. He notes how in parts of Malabar, in Kerala, even though they weren’t under Muslim rule, Muslims were treated very well. In fact, even though they were only 10% of the population, there was a lot of tolerance because people knew that they had brought wealth through trade.

You see this in Gujarat. On the coast in Somnath, there’s still an inscription saying why they reinvited Muslim traders like Nuruddin Firoz of Hormuz to settle in a place where there has been massive ethnic violence with the sacking of Somnath temple. The temporal authorities are asking Muslims to settle in these territories. You see it on the eastern coast, like the Coromandel coast as well. You see it in Indonesia, and you see it in Africa, in East Africa, also. I think that what was interesting to me is not only that there was this trade, but it was also conditional on a few things. Oftentimes, if you look at Latin America, for example, trade has been associated with coercion. It’s been associated with slaves; it’s been associated with forced labor.

In another work we’ve been looking at indigenous communities in Mexico and how they survived the conquest of Mexico. In India and in the Indian Ocean region, and more generally for the middlemen minorities, one key difference was they were providing a valuable service. It was hard to replicate. A Hindu couldn’t replicate the scale of the Hajj or steal it as a trading network. Also, you could become rich, and if you’re a vulnerable minority, people could do bad things to you to steal your stuff. It becomes harder if you’re a trader. “Fine, these guys are being mean to me. I’ll go somewhere else.” There’s competition between ports to attract trades, and this led to a very strong incentive to be peaceful.

Competition Among Traders

RAJAGOPALAN: There’s also, if I understand correctly, competition within Muslim groups. The barriers to entry are relatively low. In fact, people can very easily convert to Islam, relatively speaking. People can at any point join the Muslim community and become one of these traders, which keeps a competitive pressure on the fact that these traders actually have to perform a valuable service and not just extort out of the local Hindu communities whose goods they are hoping to ship up across the world. There’s also a second competitive element within the ethnic group, or did I misunderstand that?

JHA: No, that’s exactly right. It wasn’t just Muslims. The Armenian Christians are heavily involved. The Jewish traders were also involved, but they were all seen as competing against one another. It created tolerance for all of these groups until the Portuguese came and tried to do things a bit differently. Their view was, “We don’t want these guys to be trading. We want to do the trading, and we want to control that trade.” They tried to monopolize it. Even then, it took several centuries before it completely disappeared.

We know that it wasn’t difficult for people—precisely because the Hajj was this big coordinating device, you didn’t have to be from a trading community to do it. Unlike people from South Asia, where they often have these business castes, and that makes it easier to get into business than if you’re not in a business caste. Or the Hokkien Chinese in Indonesia where you’re part of a group, and it’s hard to enter. In this case, you could be like Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, who’s a lawyer, and decide you want to travel the world. You bring some stuff with you, and you go to Mecca, you trade your way around the world. It was pretty easy for any Muslim in principle to basically become a trader in this time.

I think what was also interesting is if you see the descriptions of tolerance, if you’re a Hindu who converted to Islam, sometimes if you’re from a lower caste even, you’d actually be treated better. You’re the same person, there’s accounts saying that they actually were treated better, once they converted to Islam, by Hindus. Because now they’re part of this trading network that is complementary, whereas before, they were seen as from a lower caste, with all the baggage that comes with that oftentimes in Indian history.

RAJAGOPALAN: It seems like the incentives that need to be aligned are, one, of course, there need to be gains from trade so that one of the ethnic majorities (in this instance) doesn’t have an incentive to just shut the other group down or wipe the other group out or run them out of town. One is the gains from the trade aspect, that the size of the pie needs to grow, and they hopefully get a larger share of the pie. The second part, which is quite interesting, is that they shouldn’t be able to appropriate the skills that are offered by the minority group or the Muslims.

In this case, there is a travel restriction for Hindus to cross the seven seas, which doesn’t exist for the Muslims. It seems like there’s one group that can’t quite trade across the sea trading routes. There’s this other group that has this natural advantage in it. Therefore, the entire thing works. If both of them were competing for the same trading routes, the entire thing might have collapsed, and medieval ports would’ve never taken off as tolerant areas. Is that a good way to think about it?

JHA: You are referring to Kalapani, which I think is really fascinating because it actually emerges later on. We know that, for example, in South India, people were trading all the way to Indonesia. That’s why Hinduism spreads to Indonesia, large parts of it, like Bali. There was a lot of trade going on in South India. Historically, there’s the Cholas, who had spread to a variety of different places. Kalapani is this idea that if you are a Hindu and you go across the black water, you will lose your caste. That actually is a recent phenomenon. It comes out in the 18th century.

It’s actually when the Europeans increasingly begin to challenge the Muslim dominance in trade or the Middle Eastern dominance; that’s when you start seeing this response by Hindus. It seems like it’s in these port towns—and it starts off earlier I think in Kerala, in Malabar, and then it actually spreads to Gujarat later. I think one thing to think about there is that this is almost like a response to maintain the complementary in a time when it’s not like something that was necessary. But it’s a reinforcing way to keep this system working in an environment where it’s being challenged by the external shock of the European attempt to dominate trade.

Similarly, like when Hindus are moving to elsewhere in the colonial British Empire and so and so forth, these things are still there in these port towns. You think about Mahatma Gandhi, when he goes to London to go to the bar—the law courts, not the bar bar—when he comes back to India, he has to basically do purification.

RAJAGOPALAN: Have a purification ritual. All of them did, all the upper-caste men had to do that at that time.

JHA: When he goes to South Africa, he’s actually going there as an agent for a Porbandari Muslim merchant. There’s all these connections that continue to be there into the modern period. Mahatma Gandhi himself kind of talks about how his mother was from the Pranami sect, also from a medieval port, Jamnagar. There used to be a Quran in her temple, and they used to talk about the differences and similarities. And it was a syncretic thing, which was, again, an organization which reinforced some of these gains from trade and arguably made them more tolerant places. He says that this is one reason he thinks his views on Hindu-Muslim relations are quite different from many others, I would say.

Modern-Day Conflict in Gujarat and Beyond

RAJAGOPALAN: I want to bring you back to modern-day India because your paper actually traverses this entire journey. You start with medieval ports, and it’s actually incredibly detailed. Now you’re talking about, in certain parts, what happened in Gujarat during the 2002 riots post the Godhra incident, and you are comparing towns. Basically, you’re slicing it a few different ways. One is medieval ports versus towns that were not ports. Then those that could have been ports—that is, they had this natural harbor but didn’t end up as ports for a trading route—and those that did. That we know that it’s not the geographical location, but the fact that it was a trading center, which is fundamentally driving your result. Places like Surat, places like Porbandar, you find that they look quite different.

It’s, one, a bad analysis to characterize all of Gujarat in one stroke. Two, once you really start digging into the differences between these towns and also what Hindus and Muslims are doing in modern day—now, to go back to the long shadow that’s cast by history, even the places where none of this medieval trade that you’ve been talking about so far has taken place for centuries, you still find greater tolerance.

The second part of the story is one of, you may have found a social norm that was used to build trust, because of an economic or commercial reason a long time ago, but then there were incentives to keep that social norm alive. That norm has persisted for the next, say, 200, 300 years. Can you walk us through what those incentives are, and when that may happen and when we can’t expect that to happen?

JHA: One interesting theoretical point is about complementarities. This goes back to work with Paul Milgrom and John Roberts and Nobel Prize folks here at Stanford, is that once you have this initial complementary, that can create incentives for further reinforcement of that initial complementarity. This can create momentum even when the initial relationship ceases to exist. This underlies a lot of our monotone comparative static conclusions, is some form of single-crossing property or complementary. There’s a very robust theoretical intuition for why you could have this momentum. It doesn’t have to be the same type of investment in different places.

It could also be organizations that reinforce these norms. Avner Greif was one of my advisers. The way he thinks about institutions is a system of elements, including norms, beliefs and organizations, which work together to induce a regularity behavior. What I like about that definition is that some of the things might get stopped, but the others might continue and then re-form in new, different ways. I think that’s the part of his idea on institutions I think is particularly relevant to what we see in these port towns.

For example, in South India, again, the Marakkanam community—these are traders in Tamil Nadu. The former president Abdul Kalam was from that community. They didn’t necessarily hang out with Hindus. They weren’t really going to parties together as I understand it, but they did a lot of business together. These business relationships often continued for long periods of time. In many cases, they endowed Hindu temples in these areas. It’s a way of sharing some of the gains from trade. In Surat, there’s the old saying that you go to Banari to die, and you go to Surat to party. There’s an environment there where people had joint celebrations, and it’s a bit more integrated, particularly for the Bohras community, which was traditionally a trading community.

It’s reinforced by the organizational system, like the Bohra jamia their religious headquarters are still—part of it is in Surat. Every Bohra male child is in principle meant to get their name from the religious leader’s administration, the al-Dai al-Mutlaq. And they also get recommendations on what jobs to take. There’s a book by Jonah Blank called “Mullahs on the Mainframe,” which describes the Bohras community and how they ask for advice on which jobs to take. Oftentimes they’re told to get into niches which are complementary, even today—even though, trading to the Middle East, oftentimes it’s hardware or certain things.

If you look at the data, like the Indian Human Development Survey from around the early 21st century, you still find that in these medieval port towns, Muslims tend to be more focused on trade than in other towns, where they tend to be more artisans, and so on and so forth. Some of these things continue, and they’re reinforced by these religious organization structures. It’s not like these guys are secular and they’re losing their religious identity. In fact, it’s the religious organizations which actually help maintain some of the complementarity.

You see this in Africa as well. There’s another Ismaili group, the descendants, the followers of the Aga Khan. Traditionally, it’s a very organized group, as you know. They have this thing called industrial promotion services where they actually match Ismailis and non-Ismailis into complementary relationships. This is actively doing some of what we see in history as having been done. The other thing they do, which I think is interesting and I think really important, is that oftentimes, as I began to look at these different cases around the world, if you’re a vulnerable minority who’s involved in trade, what are your incentives when it comes to potential threats?

You want to transfer; you might want to share some of that gains of trade. Oftentimes what ends up happening is you end up sharing some of the gains of trade with the people who are the biggest threats, like the local mob person, the local political figure. You get this almost ethnic cronyism situation emerging. For example, in Indonesia, the Chinese ethnic trading minority was seen as being very highly connected with the Suharto regime. This is a paper by Ray Fisman where he shows that when Suharto gets a cold, their stock price begins to fluctuate if they’re very connected and so on, so forth.

This can lead to perverse incentives, even to allow ethnic violence in these environments. Because supposing you’re a political leader, a dictator of some kind, and you want to extract more resources from this minority group, and you don’t know how much money they have. Sometimes you might want to allow ethnic violence against them to demonstrate the need for protection. It creates this perverse incentive to have pogroms on the equilibrium path, which is sad. I think we see it happen. We see it in medieval Europe; you see it in modern societies as well.

The Ismailis, I think one thing they try to do is they try to have a different equilibrium. One thing they try to not get involved in this type of, what would many people might perceive as a corrupt type of activity. Instead, they engage in local philanthropy. In such a way, they’re sharing some of the gains from trade, but they’re doing it with the local population rather than with the local political figures.

I think, at least, the perception I have had in looking at both the historical record as well as contemporary perceptions . . . In East Africa, for example, Ismailis—even though many of them are of a South Asian background, they’re seen as quite different from other South Asians in some of these communities, precisely because they have this collective identity, which is associated with philanthropic endeavors more than other business communities might tend to be.

How Can We Foster Modern-Day Interethnic Trade Complementarity?

RAJAGOPALAN: This brings me to an interesting point today. In the modern world, the first major change is, a lot of these cities are a lot bigger. And they are no longer just specializing in two or three different goods plus a port that will carry those goods and so on. Right now, these are really large cities with many, many different kinds of jobs, deep divisions of labor, specialization and so on. In this kind of a modern world, how does one think about complementarity between ethnic groups?

Because they still live in a ghettoized way that is almost medieval. The neighborhoods still feel medieval. The marriage practices are still medieval. The incentives of the political dispensation, especially when they’re very close in competition, are still medieval in terms of wanting to instigate violence. A lot of these people may not be engaging in those medieval occupations or trade routes anymore. How do we think about complementarity in that regard?

JHA: I think there are certain skilled activities that India specializes in as a country, very skilled artisanal work, which still has this flavor. You look at communities in Benares, for example, the weaving communities are still very highly specialized, Muslims involved in this really skilled weaving work as well. That kind of thing is still there. It still seems to have this effect on reducing conflict relative to what it might otherwise be because people have incentives to work together—environments where we have Hindu weavers and Muslim weavers doing the same thing.

This is what Ahmedabad used to be like. Even in the medieval period, you see the poles were segregated, right next to each other but guarded and fortified. You still see that these medieval cores tend to have these tensions, which erupt particularly around when there’s more political competition in those areas. Whereas, in Porbandar and Surat, people still live in the medieval core as well. Porbandar is not a fortified place. You see the temples and the mosques, they’re not built like fortresses. And I think that’s, again, a legacy of—

RAJAGOPALAN: The syncretic culture.

JHA: —this trust that communities had with one another. It’s reflected in the architecture as well. Surat, I think, it was interesting.

RAJAGOPALAN: Complicated.

JHA: Surat’s complicated. The central area, it had much less violence. Violence did happen in Surat during those riots, but mostly it was in the newer areas, the newer suburbs and where people don’t have the same types of relationships as they might have done historically in these other places. I think that, again, people are specializing in different new niches. It’s not they’re trading to the Middle East, but there is this group momentum.

RAJAGOPALAN: Your occupation is a birth accident, essentially, to a very large extent. Now the question: Is the birth accident leading you to a highly skilled form of labor that can’t be easily expropriated and that’s not in competition with the local populations? Or is it the kind of low-skill labor which can be easily substituted, and these groups can be driven out? Is that about right?

JHA: Yes. I think so. I think another interesting question is how modernization might—sometimes by homogenizing human capital, we actually might—

RAJAGOPALAN: Make things worse.

JHA: —take groups that used to be complementary and turn them into competitors. This can sometimes lead to more tension. There’s works by folks like Sascha Becker and others looking at the removal of usury bands in Europe, and how this led to more anti-Semitic activity there. Because they used to be complementary, and now they’re not.

RAJAGOPALAN: Now they could potentially compete, and the Jews have an advantage in the area that they wish to enter, essentially striking or increasing the anti-Semitism. That’s the driving force.

JHA: That’s right. I think that there are ways, like the industrial promotion services the Ismaili community, where you’re leveraging existing complementarities in new ways. That’s one way to think about it. The other one is you can also leverage these niches and create complementarities. This is actually one thing that one of my former students did, Vivek Garg. He’s an Indian army captain. I write about this in this piece I wrote for the European Commission on trading for peace. It’s basically describing some of the things he did. He served in the army in Kashmir, in the northeast. He didn’t think that what was happening was really building local support and peace in a sustainable way.

He resigned from his commission, and he used his savings to set up this organization, BAPAR [Business Alternatives for Peace, Action and Reconstruction]. Firstly, they tried to do things like microcredit. That was working pretty well, but then it started getting taxed by the insurgents. Now, as you know, the Indian government doesn’t allow these types of activities in certain zones. Then he did something, I think, quite clever, which used some of these distinct skills to induce complementarity.

He did this in Manipur, where he used the fact that there’s one big highway connecting Nepal to the north. It used to get blockaded fairly regularly by members of the Naga Christian community who were seeking a different country. They have very specialized shawls, and it’s very specific to specific tribes and their culture. Similarly, the Meiteis or Muslim and Hindu in Imphal have these similar artisanal crafts. He invited some of the women from the Naga community, and he said, “I can give you this big order for your shawls, but I’d like you to also bring in Meiteis in Imphalen and specifically some of their shawls. It’s hard for you to make theirs, and it’s hard for them to make your shawls.”

He’s leveraging the complementarity between them. He’s created a way for them to interact and get to know each other, so that organization is hard to seize. This thing seems to have made it such that they started working together during blockade season. The Naga women asked the insurgents, “Maybe just let us keep doing our thing.” Later on in Imphal, when they got an order, they brought in the folks who were on the highway. This began to, I think, build more trust between the communities, and it’s a sustainable thing. It’s induced complementarity.

I think you’re right. If we already have homogeneous human capital, then it is going to be hard to do these things. I’m not saying that we should have people stay in their niches necessarily. I think one alternative way that I’ve been really interested in is, you’re leveraging these complementarities, but giving broader exposure through financial means. Unlike having these bespoke partnerships—it’s hard to scale up those things, whereas finance is something that’s very easy to scale up. I’ve been really interested in how exposing people to similar gains—it’s a broader generalization of this idea that we all have to gain from peace.

If we give people exposure to that together through the financial markets, we can also have people from different groups potentially focus on the common good and the gains to the economy, rather than the things that often divide us. This is also something that you see in history: You see it in Meiji, Japan; you see it in Britain. We also found this in field experiments, which we did in Israel and also in the Brexit referendum as well. I think this is an idea . . . you can leverage the modern economy as well as the medieval economy to potentially help with building tolerance and trust and peace.

Reconciling Competition With Peace

RAJAGOPALAN: I think even one step further that I would go—because in the modern economy, our entire effort is to reduce barriers to entry. A lot of these medieval social norms and religious practices are trying to keep the barriers to entry really high, so that different ethnic groups don’t poach on one another’s skills and don’t appropriate each other’s trading routes, shops or anything else. Now, you almost have a bigger problem in that the sorts of mechanisms that were used for peace, you need to bring them down to have a modern economy and virtually no barriers to entry and more competition.

In the very short run or the immediate run, more competition can actually lead to more violence. It needs to be bolstered in some other way such that you can have long-run competition, contestation, low barriers to entry without trading it off for ethnic conflict or it devolving into ethnic conflict. Then, neither do you get the benefits from competition because of lowered barriers to entry, nor do you get the peace. It’s this weird spot to be in. It seems like a path toward modernization, but it’s almost more than that. It’s trying to get into global social cooperation—or seems to be the biggest problem in getting developing countries, which have lots of different bordering ethnic groups, to global social cooperation.

JHA: I think you’re right. One interesting thing about the relationship between ethnic groups and economic activities—this is not just an Indian phenomenon. Oftentimes ethnic groups, we end up doing things because there are certain advantages different groups have in different activities. Those things are still around, even though we don’t often think about them in the modern economy as being around. I think you’re right. In this world that we are in, these things are relevant, and they can be leveraged for tolerance. What’s important as well is moving toward an environment where these things will be as relevant.

We want everyone to do what they’re best at, no matter what their endowments are. This is why I think the financial markets are interesting. Because coming from an Indian background, I was really interested in the Meiji Japanese because they had a stronger caste system than India does. It was actually enforced by the state. They had an untouchable group, a merchant group, a samurai caste, which had a monopoly over violence. We don’t think about Japan as being a caste-ridden society anymore. Partly it’s because while they were removing some of these old legal distinctions, they gave the samurai an opportunity to gain from the border economy.

This is some work with Kris Mitchener and Masanori Takashima. They did this by taking their rice stipends and giving them bonds and allowing them to capitalize banks. They created these cross-caste institutions, these banks, which is a temporary monopoly right. As a samurai, you had access to these bonds, and you could create these banks. Over time, it’s undermining the differences between samurai and non-samurai while creating this cross-ethnic financial institution, which many of them still exist in various forms, mostly got bought out by others. Now we don’t think of the samurai as a separate group in Japan, largely because they integrated them into the financial system and reduced the conflict incentives there while also reducing the social distinctions.

You see it in Britain as well. I’m very interested in this for exactly the reasons you mentioned. When Napoleon talks about the British is a nation of shopkeepers, he has a point. Because unlike in France, there are these strong distinctions between the nobility and the different estates even up until the end of the 18th century. It persists a bit longer than that. In England, there’s the country folks, but many of them come from different backgrounds.

If you’re a merchant, you could buy shares. If you’re a country person, you could buy shares in the stock market. You might not be considered a gentleman, but your kids can be. They just buy a manor. There’s this mobility there where people are actually heavily involved in investment. They’re not stuck with their initial endowments in the country, hidden raising sheep or something like that, to quite the extent that they were in other parts of Europe. Again, I think the social distinctions are diminished when you have these organizations like corporations where people can all invest in together.

I’ve been interested in how all these organizations can diminish some of these ethnic distinctions as well, and basically create people who have a common interest, rather than people who focus on the division, which is often around this as well.

Destroying Complementarity

RAJAGOPALAN: To bring us back to see what’s happening with the economic fortunes of modern-day Muslims in India. In recent times, we’ve heard about Muslim shops getting vandalized or demolished, oftentimes by the municipal government. More recently, we heard about how Muslims have been banned from selling anything outside the temples, which was usually a place where all different groups were selling things that would typically be offered to the lord.

That was a temple economy in play. Now Muslims will be excluded from gaining from this temple economy. What is a good way to think about this? Is this happening because the Muslims were in competition or are in competition with things where Hindu groups could potentially also offer their goods and services? Is this a very long-run way of eliminating the Muslim advantage and complementarity by striking now and destroying the physical capital with which the human capital and complementarity are associated? How clever is the dispensation? That’s what I’m asking. How clever are the Hindu mobilizers, especially the mobilizers of violence in some of these more radical Hindu groups?

JHA: Yes, it’s hard to know. I think that there’s an old playbook where you use these types of mobilization activities to get your own base, how to vote and things like that. It’s less important about what you’re doing to the other side, as long as there’s another side to do it to. There’s also, I think, incentives to do this more in some places than other places. I think, again, looking at Gujarat, which is a very diverse place—in some places, there has been a lot less of this activity. I think it’s, again, because people realize that this is not going to fly. It’s not going to have local support, in a way, that it might in other places.

My sense is that people who do policy—Paul Brass talks about institutional right systems that happen in various parts of India. I think this is a combination of organizations, as well as political incentives oftentimes, but also economic ones that come together and have these effects. I think we’re living in a political moment where there are gains to be had from this type of ethnic mobilization more than there were at other times in India’s history. Whether that’s more of a zeitgeist thing or some person being really clever, I can’t say for sure.

I think that it’s going to resonate more in certain places than others. We know from history and from various research which ones they are likely to be, I think. For example, again, Benares, you see the skyline of Benares, and there are mosques that have been built over temples. I think Diana Eck and other people who would know about these things documented these things. It’s often been a very peaceful place, even though there are strong religious identities. Again, I think there’s not only the social fabric in Benares that’s existed for thousands of years, but there’s also this complementarity as well.

Whether that continues over time is the question. I don’t know the answer. Oftentimes when people are doing this, they balance these questions and think, “Is this message going to resonate more or less this specific time? Does it make sense to me to do it right now or not?”

I think, for example, Prime Minister Modi—it’s interesting how after the Gujarat elections in 2002, where in the next round of elections, he had a very pro-business, not sectarian platform at all. It was very much about development and the caste rather than about ethnic mobilization. That actually attracted a lot of support from places which had these traditions of tolerance. I think that people adapt to the circumstances, and the messages change at different times, depending on what the incentives are.

Ethnic Violence and Political Competition

RAJAGOPALAN: You brought us to a nice point about political competition. The way I understand that literature—and this is some of the work done by Wilkinson. If there is a very, very high or close electoral competition between different parties, and it is in fact the minority groups that will swing one way or another or help build a coalition, then that will reduce the likelihood or at least change the incentives of the political leaders to play the ethnic card and instead find ways to build the coalition. On the other hand, if there is a lot of competition, but you don’t have the minority as the group that can create the coalition, you are more likely to, of course, instigate ethnic riots and benefit from that electorally.

The third part of that is, if it’s not a close contest at all, then you can go either way. You can either have incredible incentives to instigate violence because of this kind of majoritarian benefit of protection that immunizes any political group against backlash. Or you’re already so big and you’re winning so comfortably that there’s really no point, you could move on to other things. How would you characterize Modi’s win post the Gujarat riots? Which category is he falling in? Is he winning so comfortably that now he just doesn’t need to rely on instigating violence between ethnic groups? Or is the competition getting bigger? Or are Muslim groups more likely to contribute to him politically? What’s going on in that electoral contest?

JHA: N is equal to one. It’s hard to extrapolate. I don’t know personally what he was thinking, obviously. It is interesting; at least when I studied this, it did seem to be the case that if you look at the marginal constituencies in the 2002 election, they were these places where they had this history of Hindus and Muslims competing with one another. Those swung toward the BJP in the elections immediately after the riots. They swung against them in the medieval port towns. In fact, if you look at the next elections, the medieval port towns become the marginal constituencies.

They’re the ones that you might want to win with a change in platform. Of course, this is a small incentive, but if you care about winning seats, then it makes sense. Now, in many of those kinds of economically competitive constituencies like in Ahmedabad are now stronger BJP places, you want to go after the marginal constituencies. Those were medieval ports where people respond more to a pro-business, more development platform.

It is interesting that that is the platform that he then adopted. He could have done it for other reasons as well. Maybe that’s what he believed. There are these incentives that change when you have marginal constituencies that resonate with certain messages, which I think can lead to contagion in state politics. The state politicians will focus more on those, and so when they’re the ones which are shaping who wins more or fewer seats, they’re the ones that the platforms are going to be more likely to adopt. I think that you can then have this contagion of places which are more tolerant of an ethnic violence platform, shall we say, reflected in state government platforms as well as their willingness to counter these types of activities.

Or you can also have contagion on the other side of tolerance when you have places which are more pro-business, shall we say, or pro-peace being the marginal constituencies. And then the state government focuses more on those, and they might be more willing to stop these types of activities from recurring as well elsewhere. This is something I’ve been interested in. But again, you need a bigger study than just like studying Gujarat in 2002 versus the next election in 2007.

Endogamy and Ethnic Violence

RAJAGOPALAN: How does, say, marriage endogamy play into this? My hunch is that an increase in exogamous marriage practices should increase peace in the long run. Because you have these marriage ties or kinship ties between different communities or different ethnic groups, and that should build peace, but on the other hand, we know that endogamy is the most persistent feature of South Asian life.

Irrespective of war or partition or colonial government or now modern-day liberalized economy, the number of exogamous marriages are about the same no matter what. Now we can see that there is this idea of love jihad, which is not economic competition, but this kind of social competition from men of a different group in the potential marriage market, not in the economic market.

How do you think this is playing? Because I feel like this kind of cultural, social competition is being used in a really big way as a major threat to stoke intergroup violence. The number of Hindus marrying Muslims is minuscule, and yet it seems to weigh so heavily when these discussions are taking place. They’re almost in every major hate speech that’s being given or things like that. Is this, again, the same idea of competition and complementarity which is going to start coming under threat as we move toward a more plural life, more liberal modern life, where there is less strict endogamous marriage?

JHA: These are great questions. It reminds me a lot of, frankly, the Old South. This was a big thing that folks in the South used to raise as part of a platform of exciting ethnic tension. I think there’s something visceral about it. It ties with social norms and ideas of miscegeny being tolerated or invoking disgust. I think it’s definitely got an instrumental element to it. And so then you have to ask, what are the incentives to raise these issues—given, as you said, that it doesn’t happen often at all, as far as I understand it?

RAJAGOPALAN: At least certainly not in the numbers that it should be this huge threat to Hinduism. That’s how it’s portrayed, so that’s what I meant.

JHA: As I understand it, the whole of South Asia is going through a demographic transition. Everyone’s having fewer kids as the country gets richer. But there is always this kind of discussion on the table about demographics, which makes sense in a democracy and when people vote along religious or ethnic lines. I suspect it has more to do with the political leverage because it does seem to resonate with what happened in the South, but it’s not something I’ve studied carefully, to be honest.

Impact of Militarization on Ethnic Conflict

RAJAGOPALAN: Just to switch gears for a little bit, I want to move on from looking at the impact of trade on ethnic conflict to looking at the impact of war, which is the other extreme. This is some of your work with Wilkinson, and you’re basically trying to understand what happens to ethnic conflict if the population has more military experience. You do this by looking at whether they were exposed to World War II for longer periods through their randomly assigned army battalions or for shorter periods, and what’s the impact of that.

What I find interesting about that paper is it’s actually a really large effect, which shocked me. You find that if there’s increase in combat experience during World War II, there’s a pretty large reduction in religious minorities in those areas, in those districts, so there’s basically out-migration. This additional military experience seems to have facilitated both the ethnic cleansing that might have happened in an immediate riot or during partition and so on, and also encouraging in-group migration because those people are more likely looking for protection, and I guess more in-group people who used to be soldiers and can offer protection is probably . . .

Everything in that paper made sense the moment I read it. What just shocked me was just the outsize effect. Can you walk me through what is going on in these areas? It feels like just a few more months of World War II can’t possibly be having these huge kinds of effects. So what is happening historically in these districts, or what are the historical relationships between these groups, and what is causing this kind of massive segregation? The long-run effect of this is, of course, segregation and ghettoization.

JHA: Steven [Wilkinson] and I are actually writing a book about this. We were really struck by the accounts of the partition and how different they were from what we’d read growing up. It was like neighbors going after neighbors and things falling apart. But thinking about some of the work by Indivar Kamtekar and others looking at this period have pointed out the role of military organization in making things really go to the next level, shall we say.

We’ve been very interested in how military combat experience can then create this organizational possibility which sometimes can lead to democracy and freedoms, but other times can lead to ethnic violence. We’re trying to understand when and why that happens. You think about January 6 in the United States, where one reason why it got extra scary, I think, for democracy was that there were a number of folks who were military veterans who helped organize the infiltration of the Capitol in the insurrection. This private organizational capacity can be very powerful.

We’ve been looking at how French soldiers who served in the American Revolution came back and played an important, disproportionate role in the French Revolution. It wasn’t just Lafayette, it was a whole bunch of folks who brought both skills and ideas back with them. You see this in Russia with the Decemberists as well.

In South Asia, India, I think people often talk about the Indian army in World War II as being the forgotten army because a lot of the accounts don’t really focus on the fact that it was the largest volunteer army in world history, at 3% of the population of South Asia, male population, which is—

RAJAGOPALAN: Non-trivial.

JHA: —not small. These guys, they served in Italy, they served in Burma, they served in Africa. It was a crucial part of the Allied war effort. One thing that we were interested in is that, because of this martial race theory the British had, largely to do with 1857 and the uprising there, they decided that certain groups were more or less martial. Ironically, the ones that revolted against them in 1857 were seen as less martial.

If you’re vegetarian, they didn’t think you were a good soldier. or if you had various things. They had detailed caste handbooks. We followed each district and tried to see whether they thought that the castes in those districts were seen as martial or not. I don’t think that’s random, but it was predetermined from the perspective of World War II.

Once they were in the army, they’d have these mixed assignments. You might be recruited from a particular caste in a particular village into the companies, but then you’d create these mixed battalions, and they’d send them wherever they needed them. Many of them were about to fight the Germans in Africa, and instead Japan enters the war and they get sent to Burma instead.

We use this variation to get a sense of their combat exposure. It turns out that the districts where the minority got the combat experience, they end up having relatively peaceful flows of—largely it seems like they’re able to organize and move. Where the majority got it and the minority didn’t have the combat experience, that was the worst situation.

RAJAGOPALAN: That’s the ethnic cleansing, basically.

JHA: Yes. Basically you have an organized majority that can engage in and knows how to organize violence, and you have a minority that’s not able to move in anticipation of it. That’s when you get this situation, I think, where we found the cleansing was the worst.

There were situations where the minority caught it, and they were big enough that they could see the writing on the wall. For example, in Lyallpur, the Sikh community was pretty large, and they happened to receive a lot of combat experience in the Second World War, soldiers from that community. Before the line was decided, it was actually a very peaceful place. They’d organized defensive jathas around the area, and no one wanted to mess with those guys.

That district stayed very peaceful in the run-up to partition, but then they realized that they’re far within the borders of Pakistan, that they weren’t going to be given to India, so then they mobilized the whole community. We’re talking about tens of thousands of people, and the soldiers played a large role in that. The veterans of World War II figuring out how—they’re moving 20 miles a day with their worldly possessions. I can barely walk 20 miles a day without turning red. They’re doing it. They’re choosing where to have the water. They’re choosing defensible spots.

This is something you learn in the military much more so, when you’re trying to mobilize large numbers of people, than you do camping in the mountains. They were able to mobilize and move folks. Then not only moved them, they actually chose where to move them. A lot of these guys were channeled into parts of Punjab, which then, for the first time in history, had Sikh majorities. This changed, of course, the political situation in the Punjab as well, on the Indian side. But it’s these two things that you can do to control local, ethnic demography.

One is get rid of the minorities, and the other one is to bring in people like you. One of them is more peaceful than the other. One of them is, you’re accepting refugees but it’s still a public good. We find that both of those channels were at play, suggesting that there’s this organizational benefit to those groups of this combat experience. Then we began to see this everywhere. That’s why we’re writing a book about it, that the wars aren’t over when they’re over.

In fact, external wars can often lead to large-scale political change at home when the veterans return. And depending on how societies manage that, these veterans can be big forces for peace and democracy. But they can also be forces for revolution and ethnic conflict too, depending on if only certain groups get the experience versus it’s broadly spread around.

Integrating Military Experience

RAJAGOPALAN: Actually, the other interesting thing about this is in India, traditionally, a lot of the battalions—again, the British handbooks on caste have been designed around caste and ethnic groups. That’s one part of it. Today, unlike during World War II, the people who serve and have military experience are just a really tiny fraction of the population. Now, what does this mean for India today?

Does it mean that you’re neither going to get the crazy kind of violence, nor are you going to get the crazy organizational capability, because they’re just such a small part of the community that it shouldn’t matter? Or does combat experience even today, especially in areas of insurgency and in border areas, mean something for other districts in India which have nothing to do with this insurgency?

JHA: Yes. I found many things interesting from Steven’s work. He has a book on “Army and Nation” where he actually looks at the caste composition of the Indian army. Even today it’s actually fairly similar to what it was when British martial races were in place. Armies tend to be quite conservative. They’re like, “Well, this has worked for us; why should we change it?” So there are these imbalances.

They’ve been changing over time, but there were moments, especially in the ’80s, when there was a potential risk that certain army battalions were going to march on Delhi, in ’84 in particular. I think more generally, like you said, in the regional level it can make a difference—like the Assam Rifles.

I think part of the story is, we need to make sure that we channel some of their organizational capacity in positive directions and give them a stake in development because they have a lot of skills to offer. Just like the Japanese samurai, you want to make sure that they’re integrated rather than facing ethnic grievances which can hold back development.

You’re right, as a share of the national population, it’s not a large number in India. It’s larger elsewhere, obviously. I think part of the issue is in Afghanistan, there are whole generations of people who’ve experienced war, and that’s what they know how to do. They’re very good at it oftentimes. What do you do when you have groups who have these skills?

In Iraq, the disbanding of the Sunni majority army by the U.S. without giving them options on what to do—many of them went and joined the insurgencies because they could see that in a Shia-majority democracy, their situations might not be great for them. One success of the Indian democratic system is that the army is not seen as a major threat to the democracy of the country. But in other places, it has been. I think we shouldn’t take our jawans for granted.

RAJAGOPALAN: Take it for granted.

JHA: We should really think about how to channel their abilities in positive ways. I think the GI Bill, for example, that the U.S. instituted after World War II and the Bonus Bill, these are really good ideas. These may be things that we should think about in India also.

Nonviolence and Indian Exceptionalism

RAJAGOPALAN: I want to go back again to a pre-partition moment. This is, again, about Indian exceptionalism. You talked about how India is exceptional when it comes to the army. India is exceptional in South Asia when it comes to this kind of democratic success, or at least continuous democratic success, just by virtue of the existence of peaceful elections, if not anything else.

Is this work on Indian exceptionalism because of the nonviolent mass movements? Once again, one should not expect to see this kind of movement, certainly not for the length of period that India saw nor the kind of coalition that formed around the nonviolence movement. Both of those are exceptional. The way we’ve studied—the CliffsNotes version of this is, of course, Gandhi was amazing and he was inspirational, and he created this massive movement and this coalition, which may all be true, but it doesn’t tell us very much about the incentives.

What I like about your work with Rikhil Bhavnani is that you’re now digging into the incentives of, who are the people who are joining this movement, and what’s going on there? One is, of course, the trade shocks that come because of the Depression. All the people who are reliant more on the British mercantilist trade system are now not getting as much of a benefit from the colonial government because of this massive global trade shock. They are now poorer, which means they’re much better off allying with a different group, which, in this instance, is the Indian National Congress and the umbrella movement, which is promising them more protectionism, other kinds of reforms, universal adult franchise, land reform, so on. That’s one part of the story.

The other part of the story, which is quite interesting, is that it is not something that starts as an elite movement. In most other places, when we’re thinking about these kinds of ideas, they just remain elite movements. Here, it very quickly becomes, one, elite and nonelite coalition and, two, an urban and rural coalition. All the different kinds of coalitions break down, even if everyone is not equally impacted by the trade shocks. Is this a good characterization?

JHA: Yes, I think it is fascinating. As a scholar of social movements and mobilization along ethnic lines, it’s really striking to think about how inclusive the Indian struggle for independence was. It did encompass a large swath of Indian society. And it stayed relatively peaceful as well, which is the other surprising thing, especially when you think about all the things we were discussing about ethnic conflict and mobilizing and these things.

One thing I was struggling with is the takeaway message that we often get when we read about the Indian independence struggle as well. First, get yourself a Gandhi. Get a charismatic leader, and then take it from there. As an economist, I find that might be true, but it’s also something that I wish there was something a bit more generalizable that we could do. Of course, Gandhi played an important role, but he got a lot of things wrong. In fact, I think the more we study it, the more we realize that of history mass movements, of the satyagrahas, only one was really successful. The other one in the ’30s, the Civil Disobedience Movement, the ’20s—it led to the first wave of Hindu-Muslim violence, like mass violence.

In the ’40s the Congress [Party] ended up in jail, and they decapitated the leadership overnight. It’s only in the ’30s where they really were able to leverage this cadre of people committed to nonviolent acts of civil disobedience as a leadership cohort, as well as the incentives which had people supporting them in a way at a mass level. We think the Depression is a large part of this.

One thing that I noticed which spoke to me was, for one, as you know, in India, gold is a big deal. It’s a big store of family wealth, and it plays an important social and cultural role in marriage. Historically, look at Pliny the Elder in ancient Rome. You look at the East India Company, Josiah Child, they’re all talking about how India is like the sink of world gold. One thing that India has always done is been the kind of a sink of gold. People are willing to sell all kinds of stuff to have gold.

There’s two moments in history where this is reversed, where India is actually exporting gold. One of them occurred more recently when gold prices went really, really high. The other one is during the Great Depression. I think oftentimes people think, “Well, the Great Depression didn’t hit India very hard.”

The fact that India is exporting gold, that suggests that this is a very, very difficult time. I think the Congress, what they did which was very clever in the ’30s, was then say, before they were agitating on this platform of “We should get rid of the Sedition Acts and have a few nationalist newspapers, more freedom of that kind”—I don’t know how much that resonated with a lot of people.

Then they said, “Well, our platform is going to be about regressive taxation. We’re going to go campaign about salt. This is something we all see is unjust and the British have a monopoly over it, that they are taxing everybody in this unjust way. We’re going to make it about that.” That’s something that everyone has a stake in. No matter what your religion is, your caste, it was a very inclusive platform. The Salt March brings attention to that in an important way.

I think Gandhi is very clever in bringing media attention to this issue because if he just picked up some sand off the coast and said, “Ha, I’m breaking the salt laws,” I don’t think it would have been that dramatic than if you kind of walk and wait for The New York Times to be there when you actually do it. That has more of an impact. Even though their movement was highly censored, they were able to leverage that and get people involved. I think that was very clever.

I think also, one thing we also noticed is that by selecting these guys, like you had said, if you look at the Congress leadership in the 1919 period, it is elitist. More than half of them are lawyers. But through his reforms in this moment between 1919 and 1922, they changed it. So that there’s much more nonelite folks who are entering, and really a credential is going to jail for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. You have to give up all kinds of business before the British government. If you’re a lawyer, you can’t practice law.

This is selecting people who no longer have this outside option in the existing system and were really committed to nonviolence as well as getting independence peacefully. We think that this is part of the secret sauce, if you will, that they were able to develop an organization of folks who are selected with these characteristics. So much so that Gandhi himself ceases to be as relevant because all these guys develop their own identities as leaders, so that later on his influence is much more marginal than it is initially. He’s engineered his own replacements in some ways.

RAJAGOPALAN: Yes. It’s interesting; you talked about how one of the things that is the signal is that you need to give up everything and go to jail. And here I think that’s the secret sauce in building the elite plus nonelite coalition because it’s a very costly signal for the elites relative to the nonelites. They’re giving up more in terms of opportunities. And it’s almost some of the literature which is talking about the economics of religion, where you’re talking about this massive personal sacrifice as the signal to the in-group to prevent free riding. And you can very easily free-ride a mass movement and then commit violence when it’s convenient, but now you need to make a very, very costly sacrifice, very public, very costly sacrifice which includes going to jail to signal the same thing.

Here the thing was, one of the mechanisms in your paper on what is driving people coming from rural India and all sorts of different groups, as opposed to the erstwhile elites in the Congress, is this economic shock. My sense was it may have started out with the economic shock, like that’s the impetus to participate. But eventually it seems like the nonelites, the cost of this public sacrifice is much lower.

It’s, in a sense, less costly for someone who’s a landless farmer to say, “I’m going to go to jail,” relative to someone who’s a lawyer with a big practice or something like that. To me it seems like that’s the reason why it might have forged this big connection because now nonelites can participate even if they don’t have funding or connections or anything else, as long as they can make this big personal sacrifice, which on the margin is less costly than for the elites.

JHA: Yes. I think you’re right that there were a lot of things that were done to make it very costly for the elites, relatively speaking. There was a rule that as a Congress volunteer you had to spend an hour a day doing the charkha [spinning]. . . . That time is costly for everybody, and people really complained about it, like, “What are we wasting our time doing?” But it really selects folks who are really committed to this, and particularly folks who value their time a lot. I think that was also, it’s not only an identity thing, building a common identity, but it also had the screening aspect as well.

There is also the case that these guys got beaten up. There are a lot of really difficult things they went through. I think that the sacrifices were hard for everybody. I think another interesting thing that they did is they didn’t try to make it a big movement. The volunteers were actually relatively small in number, but they were highly screened, and there were many who didn’t come from necessarily elite backgrounds as well. It was a cross-cutting in that sense. The elites that did participate were then even more unusual, like Rajendra Prasad and these other guys who cease to be rich because they devoted their lives to the mission.

Protectionism and Nonviolence

RAJAGOPALAN: Yes, but here it feels also like India might be doomed in one sense. Because for long-run economic growth, you need peace, and you need these peaceful mass movements that can foster democracy and civil association and so on. Yet it feels like the bedrock on which India’s peaceful civil association is built is on protectionism and autarkic trade and not on this kind of global social corporation. Where does that leave Indians from a cultural perspective?

JHA: I think you’re right that the Congress platform was a protectionist platform, and they were pretty clear about it.

RAJAGOPALAN: It’s also the thing that benefits them the most. In a sense, it’s the protectionists who are willing to fund them, and it’s the people who’ve experienced the negative trade shock who are willing to join them. So aside from it just being one of their platforms, it’s also politically the only way to maneuver this movement, in one sense, at that point in time.

JHA: Yes, but there are two things that they did that were important. One is that they campaigned on an economic justice platform, which doesn’t have to be protectionist. But it was the case that they had these industrialist backers that was part of their platform. The economic justice platform I think is the key, so the Salt Tax, the land reform. Land reform wasn’t perfect in India, but it did happen after independence. And it happened much more so than in Pakistan, where even today they have these large estates. Pakistani politics is very different.

RAJAGOPALAN: It’s very feudal.

JHA: So one thing that we were particularly interested in was, the fact that India had a nonviolent mass movement meant that the leaders made good democrats at some level. They depended on consent of large groups of people for their authority, and that’s what makes you a good democrat. Just to take an example: If you pick intelligence, you’re an intelligence agent and you use intelligence approaches when you become president. But these guys were leaders of large groups, and so the fact that they promised land reform, democracy made land reform credible because the median voter is going to be relatively poor.

That they basically had been trained to depend on consent, and that’s one thing they were good at, I think really had a very beneficial effect for Indian democracy after independence in a way that the coalition of Pakistan didn’t have that same characteristic. They hadn’t given up on violence as part of their platform. They didn’t promise land reform. It was a religious-based platform rather than an economic justice platform. I don’t think it needed to be a protectionist platform. But the fact that economic justice was emphasized and was seen as a way of bringing people together across different religious [identities] and castes and ethnic groups, I think is something that still is a way forward for the country.

RAJAGOPALAN: I’ve learned from you by reading all your work on how important norm setting is. Once you set this norm of this Swadeshi goods—we still have a Make in India trying to reverse the liberalization tariff reduction and so on. We’re still going about that in modern India.

I agree with you that they started out on that platform, and that need not persist. But I’ve also learned from you that these norms typically tend to persist for a really long time, given the right conditions and the right incentives. It seems like the incentives are perfect for protectionism at any given point in time. Once you have this norm setting, it can take a whole other life, so that’s why I ask if we’re doomed.

JHA: I’m always optimistic about it. India is a country where diverse people have lived together peacefully, and they’ve been able to do so despite a lot of difficulties. And I think that the ability to reinvent and to come up with new ways and new ideas, jugaad to solve the problems I think is something that’s very widespread and gives us hope or should give us all hope.

RAJAGOPALAN: Thank you so much for doing this, Saumitra. This was such a pleasure.

JHA: No, thank you, Shruti.

About Ideas of India

Host Shruti Rajagopalan examines the academic ideas that can propel India forward. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app