We need a clearer policy on political violence - GulfToday

We need a clearer policy on political violence

DC Pathak

The writer is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau in India.

The writer is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau in India.

Indian-soldier

An army personal posses with a party flag.

The General Election this time has been marked by a significant amount of violence in the run-up to the polls in several parts of the country. The bitterness amongst the contesting parties in states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra precipitated clashes between rival workers testing the efficacy and impartiality of the local police. The institution of the State Electoral Officer did not seem to be strong enough in monitoring the performance of the district police officials and taking action against those who showed serious dereliction of duty.

Violence around polling booths is a negation of democratic rights of the voters and by now India should have been able to practice zero tolerance towards this malaise. It is high time a commission examined the ways and means of ensuring peace during elections and defined specific policy measures in this regard for the future. It is highly regrettable that the largest democracy in the world cannot free the election process of street level violence.

Clearly in the federal scheme of things it is the state police chief who has to take direct responsibility for it and demonstrate his or her apolitical credentials while handling law and order during elections with an iron fist. There should be no delay in the implementation of the Supreme Court order issued last year against the practice of appointing officiating DGPs — that also clearly laid down that the UPSC will draw up a panel of three names in consultation with the state government and that the state government will make one of them the DGP of the state on the basis of merit-cum-seniority. This is the single most important police reform that the Centre must put in place at once.

Another area of political violence that showed up during and outside of elections, concerns the injurious fallout from public speeches that tended to instigate caste, communal or regional conflicts. Pungent wit and some name calling without violating the law of defamation could be a legit part of electioneering but deliberately indulging in identity politics and questioning the symbols of nationalism became much too obvious in the poll fray this time. India is vulnerable to communal and caste tensions and freedom of expression cannot be allowed to cross the legal limits put on it by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1972 that created Sections 153A & 153B to define cognizable and non-bailable offences pertaining to sectarian speeches. The police machinery of the districts has to be strengthened a great deal with manpower and technological equipment to enable it to handle this rampant criminality committed by the people in public life today. Follow up on the blatant violations of law noticed in this General Election should continue even after the poll process is over.

In the initial decades after Independence, India witnessed communal riots primarily because of the legacy of Partition but these subsided as the democratic processes took firm root and equality of rights played out for everybody. The rise of new global terror that invokes the cause of Islam has made it possible — particularly because of the mischief of Pak agencies — for radicalisation to seep into India, howsoever small may be its spread in the country so far.

The events at Colombo come as a wake-up call for our security set-up. Various communities of India at the level of average citizens want to lead a peaceful life and make use of whatever opportunities of economic advancement that would become available to them.

It should not be difficult to achieve a convergence amongst all communities on the external threats to national security if the leaders of the communities did not seek political power by dividing the people. Our laws and security policy should provide for quick punishment for those who tried to gain from the advocacy of violence in course of projection of religion into politics. Our ruling dispensation should be upfront about it — this seems to be a major learning from the 2019 national election.

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