Political violence: Undermining democracy

Politics Jun 12, 2021

Political violence

Political violence can be defined as the use of force for political purposes. Political parties, governments and non-state actors have often used political violence for electoral benefits or to achieve political goals. Most of the time the emotions of common people are exploited and intensified leading to political violence. Most common causes of political violence are division, polarization, discrimination, sense of threat or fear etc. Violence is seen as an effective way to achieve political goals which sometimes turns into rioting, insurgency, terrorism, civil war or even revolution. In Colombia, the Marxist-Leninist organisations like FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) resorted to violence for political change since 1964. Since the 1960s armed naxalites (far left communists) in central and eastern Indian have resorted to violence against the government of India to fulfill their political goals and they are often considered equivalent to terrorists. Former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh declared them as the most serious internal threat to India's national security.

The topic of political violence recently got momentum in India after heavy post poll violence in West Bengal, however electoral violence is not new in India. Between 1970 and 1990 Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Punjab and Kashmir witnessed electoral violence due to rebels and separatists. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 640 people lost their lives due to electoral violence in Bihar. Political violence is also reported in some other states of India. In most of these states political violence is reduced to a large extent.

Political violence in West Bengal

History of political violence in Bengal is decades old. Power tussles between the Congress party and the Communist party of India, the two most popular parties in West Bengal that time often resulted in violence leading to death of several people. The Naxalite movement in West Bengal in 1967 led to mass killings and encounters. There are many instances of various movements in West Bengal like the Tebhaga Movement, Ek Paisa Andolan and the Food Movement which were backed by various political parties resulting in violent confrontations. The politics of West Bengal continues to be tense even now. In 2018 Panchayat polls TMC won 34% of the seats uncontested and it was accused of perpetrating electoral violence. After the result of the legislative assembly election was declared recently there was heavy electoral violence all over the state which was accepted by the elected CM. Many people lost their lives. Many were injured and displaced.

What can be done to manage political violence ?

Proper institutional and legal framework is necessary to prevent political violence. Areas prone to violence should be monitored more, potential threats should be monitored closely. If existing methods are not enough to control political violence new codes of conduct should be adopted. There should be proper collaboration between security forces and political parties. Concerns of common citizens and voters should be addressed and those affected or displaced by violence should be properly rehabilitated. These are some ways to manage political violence, more methods can be adopted at a wider level. While free and fair elections are important components of democratic processes, instances of political violence undermine the basic principles of democracy and political violence should be properly addressed and dealt with.  

This article has been written by Harsh Battulwar for The Paradigm

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