Parties must rein in violent supporters
The key lesson learnt from the second phase of the polls is violence tends to creep in at a higher level if the polls are stretched out. The voting in three West Bengal seats was one reason why higher violence was seen on the second day of the seven-phase general election. The police also opened fire in Tamil Nadu while a woman polling officer was killed by Marxists in Odisha’s Kandhamal. Remarkably, Chhattisgarh, that is most rocked by Marxist trouble, polled above 70 per cent — as if to stress fear of violence would not deter voters. A significant worry for democracy, however, is that Srinagar’s voters virtually stayed away from the polls after the separatists’ boycott call, which was somewhat balanced by people turning up enthusiastically in Udhampur. The exercise, however, is seen in a completely different way in Jammu, as opposed to the Kashmir Valley.
The violence in West Bengal may be just a teaser as only three seats were at stake in Phase 2. Reining in those who believe knives and swords are greater than the ballot will be quite a task in the coming phases. Opponents on both the Left and Right are blaming the ruling Trinamul Congress for the open attacks on candidates in at least two constituencies, and the loss of at least one life. The only conclusion to draw is that bloodletting has become a part of the state’s political culture. Given the clash of hardline attitudes between the state’s ruling party and the Centre, West Bengal will be a major cause for worry as communal polarisation was also allowed to take place freely. The couple of Bangladeshi actors asked to leave India for campaigning illegally only highlights the minority votes’ issue.
Bees from a disturbed beehive causing a holdup in rural Tamil Nadu was the least of the problems faced in the conduct of polls across the state. The liberal use of money by all parties except Kamal Haasan’s fledgling MNM is illustrative of how far the state’s poorer people have been pushed into acquiescence by the offer of freebies in the poll season. The people have found many arguments to justify taking money, even contending that it was theirs anyway. The kernel of the issue is more to do with how politicians can afford to bribe voters if they are don’t plan to recoup their expenses by making an enterprise of their functions on behalf of the State if elected to power. The countermanding of polls in those constituencies found to be indulging most in cash-for-votes also affects those who have not bribed voters. Will the Election Commission, which is said to be more aware of its powers after being rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court, find a better solution to tackling the menace of bribes to voters?