As violent mobs under the wide and impregnable umbrella of identity politics go about repeatedly challenging the writ of the Indian state, it is time to ask some questions of the electoral system that represents our democracy and whether or not it needs resuscitation and reform. It is time to ask whether we need to tweak it and revert to simultaneous holding of national and state elections to reduce the chances of politicians falling prey to blackmailing tactics from pressure groups.

It is easy to rant against the moral degradation of politicians and the supple spine of our leaders. But the fulmination misses the larger point – the facilitation of a system that incentivises violent behaviour by making it politically costly for politicians to confront organised groups.

From murderous Dera Sacha Sauda followers to violent Dalit protestors, from aggressive Patidar and Jat agitators to riotous Karni Sena cretins, it has become frighteningly easy for any caste, ethnic, religious or organised group to bring the ‘mighty’ Indian state to its knees.

It is disconcerting to note how political activists ostensibly representing ‘Rajput pride’ or ‘Kshatriya valour’ attack school bus, terrorise kids, set vehicles and multiplexes ablaze, smash public properties, issue threats of maiming and death against actors, announce bounties for murder, unleash mindless violence and arson in several states while governments abdicate all responsibilities and Opposition look the other way.

The sequential outburst of violence by these goons (that has unfolded over many months) evidently draws from the state’s dogged inaction, even complicity, and the Opposition’s abject failure in performing its role. The reasons behind these offences are irrelevant. It could be the screening of a period drama set in the 14th century over a fictitious character. Or it could be a perceived slight against the commemoration of a battle that took place two centuries ago.

We have seen this unholy drama being enacted before our eyes many times in the recent past over countless cases of manufactured victimhood. When a bunch of goons manage to frequently hold an entire state to ransom, it ought to tell us that the Indian democratic project is in ICU.

The issue is that of identity politics that erupts over imagined offences and manifests itself through violence. The issue is the state’s criminal failure in extending its writ and implementing rule of law, debilitated by the fear of antagonising caste or ethnic groups. The real issue, therefore, is that of electoral politics.

Politicians (be it in power or outside it) have no incentive in taking on pressure groups. Conversely, pandering to the demands of these groups at the risk of weakening its own writ becomes necessary, even inevitable in the current system of a never-ending electoral cycle.

A look at the sequence of events makes the inference obvious. The BJP is paralysed by the fear that strict action against the influential Karni Sena might alienate the Rajput community, and may negatively impact its chances in the upcoming Assembly polls in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Karnataka, not to speak of the 2019 general elections.

Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan that goes to polls in a few months, has therefore gone out of her way in accommodating the Karni Sena’s demands, including announcing a ban on the movie even after CBFC clearance. That ban was reluctantly lifted following a Supreme Court order, but so lax has been her handling of law and order that the thugs have forced a de-facto ban on the screening.

This template has been replicated in several BJP-ruled states that have witnessed protests and violence over the movie including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Bihar. Haryana, where the attack on a school bus took place, has given reluctant approval while Uttar Pradesh has shown more willingness to confront the thugs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Congress has displayed an equally stubborn unwillingness in demanding answers of the government. It ignored months of violent protests, vandalism and stifling of moviemakers’ right to freedom of expression – in contravention of its perceived ‘liberal’ positioning. None of its leaders even picked up the topic.

Rahul Gandhi finally broke his stony silence on Wednesday and posted a tweet against attacking of children in a school bus but the Congress president was careful not to apportion any blame on Karni Sena activists. The diplomatic wording of his tweet was aimed at eliminating any remote possibility of offending the Rajput community who have been at the forefront of these protests.

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Padmaavat controversy: Simultaneous polls may reduce chances of politicians falling prey to blackmailing from pressure groups

Politics Sreemoy Talukdar Jan 25, 2018 18:52:28 IST

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As violent mobs under the wide and impregnable umbrella of identity politics go about repeatedly challenging the writ of the Indian state, it is time to ask some questions of the electoral system that represents our democracy and whether or not it needs resuscitation and reform. It is time to ask whether we need to tweak it and revert to simultaneous holding of national and state elections to reduce the chances of politicians falling prey to blackmailing tactics from pressure groups.

A protest in Bengaluru. Ayswarya Murthy/101Reporters

A protest in Bengaluru. Ayswarya Murthy/101Reporters

 

It is easy to rant against the moral degradation of politicians and the supple spine of our leaders. But the fulmination misses the larger point – the facilitation of a system that incentivises violent behaviour by making it politically costly for politicians to confront organised groups.

From murderous Dera Sacha Sauda followers to violent Dalit protestors, from aggressive Patidar and Jat agitators to riotous Karni Sena cretins, it has become frighteningly easy for any caste, ethnic, religious or organised group to bring the ‘mighty’ Indian state to its knees.

It is disconcerting to note how political activists ostensibly representing ‘Rajput pride’ or ‘Kshatriya valour’ attack school bus, terrorise kids, set vehicles and multiplexes ablaze, smash public properties, issue threats of maiming and death against actors, announce bounties for murder, unleash mindless violence and arson in several states while governments abdicate all responsibilities and Opposition look the other way.

The sequential outburst of violence by these goons (that has unfolded over many months) evidently draws from the state’s dogged inaction, even complicity, and the Opposition’s abject failure in performing its role. The reasons behind these offences are irrelevant. It could be the screening of a period drama set in the 14th century over a fictitious character. Or it could be a perceived slight against the commemoration of a battle that took place two centuries ago.

We have seen this unholy drama being enacted before our eyes many times in the recent past over countless cases of manufactured victimhood. When a bunch of goons manage to frequently hold an entire state to ransom, it ought to tell us that the Indian democratic project is in ICU.

The issue is that of identity politics that erupts over imagined offences and manifests itself through violence. The issue is the state’s criminal failure in extending its writ and implementing rule of law, debilitated by the fear of antagonising caste or ethnic groups. The real issue, therefore, is that of electoral politics.

Politicians (be it in power or outside it) have no incentive in taking on pressure groups. Conversely, pandering to the demands of these groups at the risk of weakening its own writ becomes necessary, even inevitable in the current system of a never-ending electoral cycle.

A look at the sequence of events makes the inference obvious. The BJP is paralysed by the fear that strict action against the influential Karni Sena might alienate the Rajput community, and may negatively impact its chances in the upcoming Assembly polls in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Karnataka, not to speak of the 2019 general elections.

Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan that goes to polls in a few months, has therefore gone out of her way in accommodating the Karni Sena’s demands, including announcing a ban on the movie even after CBFC clearance. That ban was reluctantly lifted following a Supreme Court order, but so lax has been her handling of law and order that the thugs have forced a de-facto ban on the screening.

This template has been replicated in several BJP-ruled states that have witnessed protests and violence over the movie including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Bihar. Haryana, where the attack on a school bus took place, has given reluctant approval while Uttar Pradesh has shown more willingness to confront the thugs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Congress has displayed an equally stubborn unwillingness in demanding answers of the government. It ignored months of violent protests, vandalism and stifling of moviemakers’ right to freedom of expression – in contravention of its perceived ‘liberal’ positioning. None of its leaders even picked up the topic.

Rahul Gandhi finally broke his stony silence on Wednesday and posted a tweet against attacking of children in a school bus but the Congress president was careful not to apportion any blame on Karni Sena activists. The diplomatic wording of his tweet was aimed at eliminating any remote possibility of offending the Rajput community who have been at the forefront of these protests.

There will never be a cause big enough to justify violence against children. Violence and hatred are the weapons of the weak. The BJP's use of hatred and violence is setting our entire country on fire.

— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 24, 2018

The diplomacy seems to have caught on to other Congress leaders who condemned BJP for failing to control violence but was careful not to utter the name of Karni Sena even once.

#PadmaavatRow -- Government should ensure that rule of law is upheld. I will definitely go and watch the movie #Padmaavat when I get free from my personal commitments: @ManishTewari, Former I&B Minister to CNN-News18 #IWillSeePadmaavat

LIVE: https://t.co/PrBEXb7K6u pic.twitter.com/1GLysd2rEf

— News18 (@CNNnews18) January 25, 2018

Finally, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh ended up blaming the moviemaker instead of the perpetrators. As did BJP’s Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh. Both, incidentally, are from the Rajput community.

Films which hurt sentiments of any religion or caste should not be made: Digvijaya Singh on #Padmaavatpic.twitter.com/NdhEXMVKxQ

— ANI (@ANI) January 25, 2018

We may choose to be uppity about it but morality doesn’t win elections, opportunities do. Congress' reluctance to blame Karni Sena for the violence may have something to do with a recent development. As Financial Express points out, about a dozen Rajput associations in Rajasthan, including Karni Sena, have decided to back Congress in the upcoming bypolls because they are "angry" with BJP’s stance over Padmaavat.

Whither administrative duty? Whither morality? Whither liberalism? These have been sacrificed at the altar of vote bank politics.

We need to, therefore, consider the prime minister’s suggestion of holding concurrent national and sub-national elections in all seriousness. In absence of the political compulsion of pandering to every pressure group before the next upcoming election, the government may no longer be afflicted with paralysis in confronting a threat to law and order and the Opposition may rediscover its political will in holding the government accountable in case it falters.

It is obvious that governments, with its law enforcement machinery and huge paraphernalia, do not lack the wherewithal to tackle the goons. They lack intent. Righteous indignation is of little help when penal action against a group could be the difference between winning or losing an election. In Gujarat, the Congress' unlikely coalition of Dalit and upper castes hinged only on an anti-BJP agenda, that drew angst (especially in Patidar’s case) from administrative action against the agitating activists. Congress benefitted from the stir.

The state’s inaction, therefore, is the rotten fruit accrued from having elections round the year, every year. They make governments impotent. Improved governance depends ultimately on a system that incentivises good over bad behaviour. Holding concurrent polls might just be the tonic our democracy needs.

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