International Economics
14 February 2022

Religious polarisation and the supply of public goods in India

India’s social heterogeneity, marked by conflict, diverse preferences and political insecurity, results in a lower supply of public goods, yet the issue has received little attention from academic research. In his master dissertation, Pulkit Bajpai focuses on the impact of religious polarisation, measured through religious heterogeneity, on the supply of public goods at the subdistrict level. His findings, which he details in this interview, won him the 2021 Rudi Dornbusch Prize in International Economics and are now published in open access thanks to the support of the Vahabzadeh Foundation.

How did you come to choose your research topic?

I have always been interested in understanding the dynamics of public policy from a socio-political lens, more specifically how biases towards race, ethnicity, religion and gender have an adverse impact on economic outcomes. There was an absence of existing research that looked at the intersectionality between economic outcomes and social biases in developing countries. I decided to explore this relationship in the Indian context to establish the economic impacts of religious polarisation. 

Can you describe your thesis questions and the methodology you use to approach those questions?

The primary focus of my thesis is to measure religious polarisation and fractionalisation in the Indian context. The thesis uses a generalised form of the religious polarisation index that captures potential conflict by measuring how far the religious groups are from a bimodal distribution. Further, the thesis focuses on establishing a relationship between potential religious conflict and access to public goods such as education, healthcare and sanitary facilities due to violence, erosion of social capital, mistrust and biases that adversely impact economic growth. 

What are your major findings? 
Potential religious conflict measured by a higher religious polarisation results in a lower supply of schools, universities, roads, public toilets and sanitary facilities. This reduction in the supply of government facilities is increased by a larger presence of Christian and Muslim communities, driven by collective dislike between religious groups who act collectively against each other and obtain utility from discriminating against them. 

What are you doing now?
Currently, I work as a consultant at the World Bank in the Sahel region, where I overlook impact evaluations focused towards reducing food insecurity and developing community resilience. I also work as a data manager at Resolve to Save Lives in collaboration with Africa CDC, to provide epidemiological data insights for Covid-19 and improve emergency responses.

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Religious Polarization and Under-Supply of Public Goods was published thanks to the financial support of the Vahabzadeh Foundation. It reproduces Pulkit Bajpai’s master dissertation (supervisor: Martina Viarengo), which won the 2021 Rudi Dornbusch Prize in International Economics.

How to cite:
Bajpai Pulkit. Religious Polarization and Under-Supply of Public Goods. Graduate Institute ePaper 42. Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, 2022.

Banner picture: excerpt from an image by MTD_myTravelDiaries/
Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.