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Despite all their poverty, slums are diverse places, with people from different regions, religions and castes living in close proximity. But this can also create animosity. A new study finds that slum dwellers having more neighbours outside their religion are more likely to vote for candidates from their own faith. They possibly think the candidate, when elected, will look after them in the fight for government resources.

The study, by Jeremy Spater of Princeton University, is based on interviews with over 7,000 people in 149 slums in Bengaluru, Jaipur, and Patna from 2015 to 2017. They were asked to choose between hypothetical Hindu or Muslim candidates for local ward elections.

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Leaders in these slums exercise patronage politics, promising people of the same religion public services in return for votes. Living close to people from other religions lets one witness patronage politics in action. They see politicians visit their neighbours, mobilize them along religious lines, and deliver them benefits such as piped water and ration cards after elections.

This makes people with neighbours from other religions prefer candidates from their religion as they search for their own patrons and become part of rival patronage networks. The analysis shows a person with more neighbours of another religion is 5% more likely to prefer a candidate of their own religion.

The study also looked at who people would want living next to them when surrounded by neighbours of a different religion. The findings show they aren’t more hostile to new neighbours of another religion. In the author’s view, this could be them recognizing the lack of power they have in the situation, and making peace with it.

Patronage networks favour one group over others and are harmful in the long run. So the author suggests measures be taken to improve religious harmony in slums, and provide essential services transparently.

Also read: Exposure and Preferences: Evidence from Indian Slums

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