Editorial: Political Violence

Head it off before the boundaries are pushed

Sikkim prides itself over being a peaceful state and often highlights its Buddhist ethos of nonviolence. In fact, there are many who believe that even the formation of the kingdom was a peaceful process. Be that as it may, can Sikkim genuinely lay claim to being a nonviolent society? Its members seem to succumb to violent outbursts too often for a peaceful people. The last elections were among the more violent political episodes in Sikkim’s recent history, and sporadic instances that occurred for at least a year since reinforced the suspicion that when opportunity presents, Sikkim collapses rather conveniently to violent expressions. Let us qualify this by specifying that those who have already secured a place in the public domain appear to be on a hair-trigger when it comes to violence. At least that is what the easy instigation of social media and desperation of political futures proved in the last election cycle in Sikkim. The cold brazenness with which some of the pre-poll violence was launched in 2014, because it was not condemned widely enough by the lay people and their civil society organizations, ended up claiming two lives before Sikkim voted. The fear of continued and violent score-settling might have been one of the factors which played a deciding role in the final verdict, but people need to reject violence more forcefully than that. Because they haven’t, or perhaps because there is a staggering trust-deficit in how the Opposition engages the establishment and vice versa, violence, even if not of the physical pre-poll scale, continues to occur in the language used and attitudes flaunted. It’s ugliest post-election explosion was during the college showdown in July 2014, but there have been sporadic moments since then. It will not surprise anyone if students complained that the authorities were haughty, dismissive and disinterested and that this led to some in their support groups to get into shoving and loud slanging matches. It is important to bear in mind that violence need not always be physical. If the tendencies are not clipped every time the boundaries are tested, violence will occur more often, and each time with increasing intensity and the physicality will arrive too. Sikkim needs to keep in this mind as it readies itself for another election and the potential even this one might hold for violence if the lay people, the voters every leader wants to woo so desperately, do not convey a clear signal that while they welcome heated ideological debates, they will not tolerate actual violence. After all, if violence, and one is still not speaking scale here, highlights public expression, it should worry the Sikkimese society at large. What Sikkim is seeing of late is a spike in aggressive posturing which is always only a step away from violent aggression. Most instance of violence typically ignite without much planning. They start as a collection of earnest believers, adherents and supporters, as inspired by the ideology [or need] which brought them to the streets as by the lure of defying authority. Typically, the groups have a very small percentage of agent provocateurs who play on egos and pride to egg the group into trouble. There will always be those who will try to instigate groups into violence, and they are not always consciously playing villains; sometimes, and more dangerously, they believe it to be the only recourse and are convinced of the morality of their stands. That should not however mean that violence cannot be curbed. A good place to begin will be in the vocabulary used to describe violence. Violence is often reported and explained as being caused by “anger” and “disenchantment” by “disaffected youth” or “wronged sections”. Such messages end up legitimizing lawlessness. Violence is wrong. Period. Keep justifying it and one will soon reap the proverbial whirlwind. Violence is a criminal expression. See it as such and demand that it is tackled as such, and may be civilized debates and lobbying will become possible. Sympathetic portrayals of criminal activity propagate free-for-alls. When institutions fail to repudiate violence, it not only lasts longer but also pops up more often. How to curb this trend? The community has to reject all forms of violence. This rejection should occur loudly and clearly. The police and public officials should be allowed to expose and take legal action against those who break the peace. While on this aspect, the people should also follow police action on breakdowns of law and order situations and demand better case preparations. Isn’t it surprising that thus far no one has ever been convicted for rioting or mob violence in Sikkim even though such incidents have occurred. What could also work in puncturing political violence tendencies is subjecting it to frequent and scathing public ridicule, stripping it of the alpha-male celebrations that are usually attached to it. Do nothing, continue ignoring it, and these elections, which are not very far away, will definitely be more violent and vicious.