For India a deviation in the principle of non-violence is very critical indeed. A perception is being created in international circles that the largest democracy in the world has not matured enough as a democracy. The Union Government now needs to step forward and control the situation
BJP MP Arjun Singh suffered head injury in a clash in Bengal
Politically motivated violence involves attacks on individuals/institutions, disruption of normal life and all other hostile activities carried out by a political entity to fulfil its agenda. Logically speaking, such violence has no place in a democratic dispensation where matters are to be resolved through debate and the ultimate power of the vote. There is, in recent times and very sadly, a deviation in this principle of non-violence being witnessed in India.
The spectre of violence has increased significantly since a single party has gained absolute majority in the Union Parliament. Violence has become a primary tool of expression for the opposition and has been witnessed more in states where the Government is of parties in opposition at the national level.
The state legislative assembly election in West Bengal witnessed unprecedented violence as a prelude to the voting. In September 2019, BJP Member of Parliament, Arjun Singh, suffered head injuries in the course of a police baton charge at Kankinara, West Bengal. There were other violent clashes also reported from mid-2019 onwards, some leading to imposition of Section 144; there are reports of BJP workers having been shot at point blank range.
The home of a BJP supporter in flames at Jharbari
Strangely, the violence escalated significantly even after the results were declared and the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) came back with a comfortable majority. Within hours of the results being declared, reports came in of entire villages being attacked by mobs; this continued for almost a week. The speed, ferocity and efficiency with which the attacks were carried out indicated that preparation had been made much earlier. About 4000 villages were targeted; the rioters destroyed property/houses and, most disgracefully, indulged in rape and molestation. More than 35 persons have been reported killed in these barbaric incidents of violence.
The perpetrators of the attack were mostly Muslims and the most affected area was the border belt. Interestingly, it was not only members of the opposition parties (BJP and others) who were targeted, on the radar were Hindus regardless of party affiliations. The obvious derivative is the existence of a larger plan to drive residents of a particular community away from their homeland along the border to gain complete domination of the area by the Muslims.
Fact finding committees sent in by the government and by social service organisations speak of a pall of fear having been created. The police and administration remained in a state of paralysis. The ruling TMC and its leadership did not take any initiative to quell the violence until compelled to do so by the Government of India and various pressure groups. Now the state government is not taking any steps to rehabilitate the displaced persons. This sensitive job is being done by social institutions and organisations that are taking a lead in providing legal and economic aid as well as shelter and security to the displaced people. The hapless victims of violence are now being motivated by the social organisation to get back to their homes but there is resistance among them due to the fear psychosis.
Punjab is yet another state where violence to achieve political ends has been witnessed especially in the wake of the farmers agitation. BJP workers are not even being allowed to carry out legitimate political activity, thus putting the very basic right to freedom of expression under threat. On 12 October, 2020, Punjab BJP President Ashwani Sharma was attacked by a violent mob in Hoshiarpur. A little after, the houses of many BJP leaders were surrounded by violent mobs and, in some instances, tons of garbage was thrown outside the houses of senior BJP functionaries. In March 2021, a BJP MLA in Punjab, Arun Narang, was thrashed and his clothes were torn while conducting a party meeting in Malout. On 13 April, 2021, Shri Ram Gopal, the State head of “Haryaval Punjab,” a social welfare organisation dedicated to promoting organic farming, sowing and growing of trees and greenery, management of plastic waste and similar good environment enabling projects was attacked by a politically motivated mob at Ferozepur .
In Jammu and Kashmir, open threats continue to be given to BJP workers even as many have been assassinated. On 2 November, 2018, a BJP leader, Anil Parihar and his brother were assassinated in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir. This raised apprehensions of a resurrection of terrorist activities in areas south of the Pir Panjal that has been free of militancy and terrorism for more than a decade now.
There continues to exist a nexus between certain rogue political elements and terrorist Tanzeems operating in the Kashmir Valley. Ajay Pandita alias “Bharti”—Sarpanch from South Kashmir Anantnag followed by Wasim Bari, his father and brother fell victims of the handiwork of these very affiliations. These murders have been carried out with a view to deter the emerging parties and cadres in the valley, besides ensuring that the vested political agendas of the local mainstream parties remain relevant.
It is quite obvious that the aforementioned attacks were carried out to send out a political message. The goons at the behest of some political masters wanted to convey that certain parties will not be allowed to carry out any political activity in the affected states. Something similar, albeit in lesser intensity, is happening in other states across India too.
Earlier, the general public was left unharmed during the conduct of abrasive political activity. Today, a condition has come whereby fatality cases from politically motivated violent incidents are higher than those perpetrated by acts of terrorism. Hatred and frustration are the tools being used to instigate people onto this path. The essence of social debate is being lost out in the midst of turmoil and insecurity. This is a very recent and wholly unprecedented phenomenon.
Such activities bordering on outright criminality have, sadly, been identified by some as the most effective means of gaining political leverage. In this brutality lies outright misuse of power to the extent of weakening the very fabric of democracy and leading to a great risk to its security, sovereignty and integrity; it is indicative of the darker sides of politics . The phenomenon gets further leveraged on social media where justification is created for the horrendous acts to the extent of them being welcomed.
Violence of this nature inhibits individuals from participating in social and political life which is the essence of a vibrant democracy. For India, the largest democracy in the world, the situation is very critical indeed. Due to the existing political instability, a perception is being created in international circles that the country has not matured enough as a democracy.
If unchecked, the present situation has the potential of spiralling out of control. Such a situation would go against the fundamental rights endorsed in the Constitution of India whose upholding is the primary responsibility of the state. In other words, India will come across as a weak state.
It is therefore the duty of the Union Government to step forward courageously and control the situation. Primacy needs to be given to ensuring security of all citizens and to constitutional righteousness and justification. Any activity that goes against the aforementioned parameters needs to be contested by all powers vested in the state. These powers need to be used in a timely manner so that they have the desired effect. Any further delay in addressing the serious situation that is being created in the country would be the harbinger of disaster.
Simultaneously, community leaders and social organisations should discourage citizens from following a path so detrimental to the democratic norms and security of the nation. The evil agendas of those using violence for personal political gain need to be exposed and denounced.
No democratic country, least of all India, can remain strong when a weak, non-representative opposition leadership having no confidence in its ability to perform depends upon the show of power to stay relevant. It is the duty of the Government, the civil society, the opinion makers and all citizens to ensure that political activity stays within accepted democratic norms.
(The writer is a strategic analyst, writer and author)