In the study of federalism, scholars argue that federalization strengthens regional parties who subsequently promote ethnic conflict and secessionism. This paper seeks to reject the general applicability of this argument by examining a specific regional party in the Indian state of Punjab during the 1980s. The paper shows that parties must not be seen as homogeneous entities, but as heterogeneous groups in which different factions seek to take over leadership. Leadership had an important impact on the evolution of the Punjabi conflict. In the 1980s the party was dominated by moderate politicians who wanted to find a political solution to the conflict. However, over the years the moderates got weakened in the party, but widespread ethnic conflict and violence first occurred when the moderates were disempowered in the late 1980s. The paper shows that leadership and internal factional divisions of parties are important factors for analyzing ethnic conflict.
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