Friday, July 25, 2014

Politicians playing with fire

Rajinder Puri
The Statesman - July 25, 2014

Political leaders, MPs and MLAs belonging to all parties have changed the meaning of political activism. Earlier it was confined to fasting, dharnas and sometimes even gheraos. There may have been elements of hypocrisy in much of this activity, but it was largely peaceful. Now even elected legislators become physical and commit violence at the drop of a hat. 

TMC leaders thrash policemen in Kolkata, West Bengal. BJP leaders instigate and participate in violence in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Congress politicians spread violence in Betul, Madhya Pradesh. And leaders of the Shiv Sena are of course notorious for violence and intimidation. A recent incident in the Maharashtra Sadan in the capital is symptomatic of the new political culture.

Sena MPs residing in Maharashtra Sadan vainly complained for months against its poor service and inedible food. Then along with electronic media and the Sadan’s manager they disrupted the dining hall. In presence of the media one MP, Rajan Vichare, tried forcibly to shove food down the throat of a catering staffer. He happened to be a Muslim observing his Ramzan fast. 

The incident blew up and acquired communal overtones. Vichare claimed ignorance about the staffer’s religion and later apologized for the error. The staffer, Arshad Zubair, rubbished this as he was prominently wearing his name tag. The media went to town with this controversy. Shiv Sena leaders justified their anger. They miss the point.

Understandably, media and opposition ire focused mainly on the insult to Muslims. Shiv Sena leaders claim genuine provocation due to atrocious service and food. They rebut any communal intent. BJP allies with an eye on polls are tongue tied. Home Minister Rajnath Singh mumbled an evasive comment to media. For argument’s sake accept Vichare’s claim about no communal intent. A more far reaching and damaging aspect may well be the propensity to use illegal physical force by elected legislators. Is it not proving infectious and influencing public behaviour?

Note the widespread resort to violence and lynching by mobs across the nation. Note the increasing violence in impressionable minds sometimes even leading to murder. Thanks to the example set by politicians who resort to violence and fail to enforce the law Indian society is becoming increasingly violent both through individual acts and group action. This should be seen in the context of another development.

Due to their scandalous conduct and propensity to violence Indian politicians have by far overtaken the police as symbols of public hatred. This potent combination, becoming hate objects in a violent society, should alarm the political class. Sooner or later a group of citizens could emerge to organise violence against politicians. The Maoists gained a measure of public sympathy by voicing grievances and targeting underpaid and overworked policemen. 

How much easier, less expensive, and more effective would be terrorist attacks against politicians by any organised group of citizens following a political agenda? Both the government and opposition need to seriously reflect before it is too late.

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