The State Must Up The Ante Against Street Veto And Violence
Going forward, it cannot be business as usual.
The state must urgently snatch back its monopoly on violence.
The state and the state alone, irrespective of how much someone is hurt, pained, or offended, has the monopoly on violence. The crudest and cruellest statements could be made against a community, an organisation, a group, or an individual, and yet, the state would reserve the right to serve justice through one of its arms.
On the Friday of last week, however, these golden rules of governance were sent for a toss. Members of one community, anguished by Nupur Sharma’s remarks made close to a fortnight ago, gathered for protests across the country following their weekly prayers.
The spontaneity and nationwide coordination of these protests hinted at an external play, as has been the case with street protests in the past few years. Forces were pelted with stones, public property was damaged, and effigies of the former BJP spokesperson were seen hanging, among other heinous actions against the state and the individual.
A pattern is now beginning to emerge, for radicals facilitated violent protests and street veto much before Nupur Sharma made those remarks.
During the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), children and women from the Muslim community, one that had nothing to do with the CAA legally or otherwise, were put forward as the brave voices on the street against the draconian law introduced by the government. Farmers camping mindlessly against the three laws at Singhu, Ghazipur, and Tikri were labelled as 'old men, women, and children, toiling in the winters of Delhi to save their lands from the evil corporates'.
Today, the protests against Nupur Sharma are being justified in the name of religion, piousness, and the imaginary anti-minority stance of the government in the last eight years.
A quick and subtle cultural and political coverup follows the protests on the streets. On forums and TV debates, and in their interactions with the representatives of the government, the stakeholders and leaders of these protests condemn and dismiss violence. Still, it is the first tool they choose to employ on the ground.
Calls for the beheading and hanging of an individual are normalised, yet the promoters of these protests proclaim the rule of law and constitution when questioned by the media. If all else fails, a human chain around a temple is the last resort of the radical, quietly covering up for the violence and arson against the members of the majority community.
The double standards of the promoters behind the street veto and violence are appalling. When it comes to properties of the rioters being confiscated or their illegal constructions demolished, the rule of law, the book of the constitution, and the supremacy of the courts are hailed.
Yet, the same promoters and the protesters do not wait for the courts to announce their verdict on any reforms passed by the Parliament or on remarks made by one party spokesperson, for which she has apologised already. For the radicals, unless they are on the receiving end of the state’s legal wrath, they are the self-proclaimed judge, jury, and executioner.
There is also the question of bulldozer justice, as many now term it, and its sustainability. Bringing rioters and arsonists to justice goes beyond demolishing their illegal constructions, for they are arrested and are to be convicted for inciting violence, hate speech, and so forth.
However, how far can the state go in imposing the fear of bulldozers as a punitive measure? What if the rioters are without a home or come from another state or are from sleeper cells or do not have any illegal constructions to their name or are so large in number that the idea of bulldozer justice itself falls flat?
The government needs a clear policy in dealing with street veto and violence. This is neither a one-off affair nor the last time we shall see motivated groups taking to the ground to disrupt reforms or policies.
In defence of the government, they have been stuck in a catch-22 situation, for they could not use lethal force against women, children, or old farmers sitting at Singhu, thus risking a nightmare on the front pages of media, both home and abroad, and other think tanks, even while having a constitutional right to do so.
Thus, they are now stuck in a loop where every policy and reform is met with a strong street veto on the ground, and it goes into limbo, as is the case with the CAA, and labour and farm reforms. There is a strong possibility, therefore, that they shall be fighting a majority of their political battles on the streets and not in the parliament.
The question then arises of punitive costs and how far the government is willing to go to impose them.
Can the state, using the technology at its disposal, including the Aadhar, to begin with, low-flying surveillance drones, facial recognition services, and digital surveillance, fast-track the conviction of the suspects within the purview of law?
Can the state debar the convicts and their families from subsidies, government employment welfare schemes, formal financing options, access to passports, and so forth? Catching the ring leaders is one thing, but how does the government deter the thousands on the ground, cheering on mindlessly while causing economic losses worth billions and causing a law and order situation?
These are not easy questions for the state has its political faultlines, and judicial weaknesses where the courts are willing to get into the business of policymaking while foreseeing a 'future for sinners'. Then there are the countless PILs to rescue convicts, which the courts are happy to entertain. Yet, the state, starting with the Centre, must persist.
Beyond the routine political bickering, all the political stakeholders of the Indian state must realise that there is no winner in the idea of encouraging street veto and violence. The endgame for the promoters of the violence on the ground is political anarchy and economic collapse.
Therefore, while retaining the spirit of the constitution and the right of the citizens to lawfully voice their disagreement, a set of laws must be enacted and applied across the country that deters the promoters and participants of this new form of street veto and violence.
Going forward, it cannot be business as usual. The state must urgently snatch back its monopoly on violence. Take away the carrots while brandishing the stick.
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