The upsurge in intimidation and violence in the run-up to elections is not something that is adequately captured by the media or academia, caught up as they are in working out political chemistry and arithmetic.
In the end, all the brawls, fistfights, murders, riots and deaths get clubbed and lazily stereotyped as “mobilisation” and “polarisation”, whereas the institutionalisation of the abnormal should make us sit up in alarm.
By-poll in Kerala? Killings in Kannur.
Elections in Karnataka? Murder on the west coast.
By-poll in Rajasthan? Lynching in Alwar.
Elections in Tripura? Attacks on journalists.
Elections in Nagaland? Candidate killed.
Nothing new at all in this competitive thuggery, actually, but there can be little doubt any more that verbal and physical violence is an essential part of the election armoury of political parties. Except that no one is willing to come out and bell the cat.
Yesterday was an exception.
In the by-elections to the Bijepur assembly constituency in Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) scored a thumping victory in a seat which had been held by the Congress for the last 15 years. The Congress voteshare slumped 28% vote.
BJD had last held the seat in 2000 when the party was in partnership with the BJP. As recently as last year, in the panchayat elections, the BJP had six of the seven zilla parishad members, with some 92,000 votes.
That the BJD came up trumps despite the weight of history and won a 57 per cent vote share despite nine Union ministers camping in Bijepur for a fortnight, is not quite the story.
The story is of the BJD winning despite the politics of “hatred and violence” unleashed by the BJP, which the state’s fourth-term chief miniser Naveen Patnaik unequivocally addressed in a tweet after results were declared.
Later in the night, the BJP MP and lawyer Pinaki Misra, put it even better on the NDTV show Left, Right and Centre:
“The BJP ran, by the way, a vicious campaign, full of vandalism, full of violence, and that is what has been answered by the people….
“They don’t like the way the BJP, and blessed by the central leaders, has conducted its politics of vandalism where people who throw eggs are taken as star campaigners.
“You have seen the Delhi scenario of the chief secretary getting assaulted. In Orissa, the home of the private secretary to the CM , with his minor children and wife there, alone in the house, it was vandalised by BJP people holding flags. And they had called the media guys to show, look this is us.
“There is an unfortunate lumpenisation of politics in Orissa which the people do not like.”
The reference is to the attack on the residence of V.K. Pandian, the PS to Patnaik, who has been the target of Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, the BJD MP suspended from the party for purported “anti-party activities“.
The BJP attack on Pandian’s home backfired on Panda , whose TV channel OTV was accused of “paid news”.
The BJD alleged that it was an OTV reporter “who first checked out and made sure that Pandian was not home before signaling the all-clear to BJP Yuva Morcha goons through a phone call to come and create mayhem”.
Panda quickly distanced himself, with a caveat:
Be that as it may, by addressing the BJP’s violence and vandalism head on, Patnaik and Misra have sent a signal message to states going to the polls—Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh—to repudiate hatred as the new normal.