A dangerous trend

Violence in Politics

By Dr. S. Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

At the venue of the farmers’ protest site at the Singhu border in Sonepat, Haryana, a brutal murder of a young man was reported recently. The body with severed limbs was found tied with ropes to iron barricades. The gruesome picture shown in some TV channels is evidence of growing sense of intolerance turning violent and readiness of some people to torture and murder anyone coming in their way and exhibit the scene without any compunction.
Not all details on this frightening incident are known yet. Whether it is part of the farmers’ protest or only using the protest site to commit this ghastly crime or an act provoked by religious sentiments unable to tolerate disrespect to a sacred text as complained by some people is not known.
This incident followed the violent farmers’ protest at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh on 3rd October where eight people – four farmers, three BJP workers, and one journalist were killed. The farmers died when a car mowed them down and others in the crowd fell victims to the scuffle that followed in retaliation. The result is escalation of violence.
Farm protests were going on despite Supreme Court asking farm unions the reason for continuing protests and road blockades when the laws are kept in abeyance and the matter is in court. The Supreme Court had accused the farmers of “strangulating the city (New Delhi)” with their protests. It has also been reiterating that people have a right to protest, but not to block roads and obstruct normal activities for several days at stretch.
Whatever the provocations for violent protests, we have to be ashamed of the culture of violence spreading fast in the country. While lynching has no place in an orderly society under the rule of law, treatment meted out to the dying person and the dead body is a barbaric act and clearly looks like the work of a frenzied mob in a mobocracy.
No better is the situation in Britain, the world’s proudest democracy. A pro-Brexit Conservative Member of Parliament was attacked inside a church and was killed while he was holding fortnightly consultation with his local constituents – both a sacrilege in a place of worship and an attack on a people’s representative while he was doing his work. It is reported that he was stabbed by attackers multiple times in the presence of some staff members. Britishers recall the murder of a pro-EU law maker belonging to the Labour Party in 2016 before the Brexit referendum. Violence seems to be natural to man to be applied as and when required whereas parliamentary institutions are still nurtured to become natural.
Increasing attacks on politicians are said to be damaging the great democratic traditions of the British people. It is reported to be the second murder since 2016 of a politician while meeting voters. Described as the “rising tide” of public violence in a public place against elected representatives, it has led to tightening of security arrangements for 650 MPs in Britain.
Unbelievable is the violent attack on US Capitol in January last in the aftermath of Presidential election bitterly fought between Democrats and Republicans. Reputation for smooth transfer of power following electoral defeat received a big blow.
Violence in politics is not a strange phenomenon. After all, politics is struggle for power and survival of the fittest. But, concepts of democracy, representative government, popular elections, independent judiciary, constitutional and legal rights and responsibilities, ideals of human rights and social justice have drastically reduced the need to resort to violence by people directly to pressurise anybody to fall in their line of thinking.
Democratic societies have various forums to discuss issues. Ignoring these platforms and the growing cult of violence is antithesis to democratic virtues, values and traditions. Viewed along with the continuous Parliament stalemate in India, it is a dangerous trend that portends a grim future for Indian democracy whatever be the source of inspiration for violence. Urgent remedial measures are called for in the interest of safeguarding our democratic traditions and institutions.
Violence in the democratic politics of a nation, as distinct from terrorism and violent extremism, is of four major categories. It may cause direct attack of leaders or politicians for any particular action or inaction. Assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in India, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King in the US, SWRD Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka are some specimens of this type.
Protests against any decision of a government may turn violent in its course or even start with the intention of forcing reversal of the decision. This is the most prevalent form assumed by political parties and people. All bandhs on issues like price rise, mega industrial projects, reservation policy, etc., which lead to violence and firing fall in this category.
A third type is open clashes between warring groups to settle their disputes without recourse to legal and judicial doorsteps. Caste and communal clashes are instances of public repudiation of authorities. A fourth type is murder, lynching, kidnap, torture, etc., to create fear and make opponents submit to particular course of action. They are akin to acts of terrorism. The victim(s) may or may not be the target aimed at. This kind of violence may be committed against anyone, not particularly against the opponent. This is presently witnessed on many questions like farm laws, communal conflicts, re-organisation of Jammu and Kashmir and so on.
Today, political violence within nations kills more people than wars between States. It no longer remains just a theoretical concern that rulers have to avoid. It is a reality and a serious and growing concern in all countries. Nations seem to agree that wars involving many nations is no solution to problems. Why they are unable to put down domestic violence is indeed a riddle.
Police brutality is a kind of political violence common in all countries. It is excessive use of force by police authorities to detect crimes, detain the culprits, and handling the offenders in their custody for interrogation and to enforce their authority. Custodial violence is often reported as normal police procedure and sometimes it leads to death. Chief Justice of India has suggested forming standing committees headed by Chief Justices of high courts to investigate complaints received from the common man on “atrocities” committed by the bureaucracy, especially police officers. At the same time, there has also arisen a need to protect the police on duty and provide security to judges.
At the rate at which politics, meaning issues, involving political interests is turning violent quickly, it is certain that Sustainable Development Goal No. 16 “to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere” will not be reached long after 2030. On the contrary, this goal is showing negative achievement. The first specific target under this Goal is to “reduce violence everywhere”. Another is “to promote rule of law and to ensure equal access to justice”. It requires the will of the entire nation to eradicate violence from the vocabulary of politics. — INFA