When law-makers turn into goons

"There is nothing new in elected representatives resorting to hooligan behavior to push their ways"

Two days ago the Member of Parliament representing Mangalore constituency publicly issued a threat that he would set Daskshina Kannada district on fire  if the local police failed to arrest persons involved in a murder case within the deadline that he set. The controversy created by this incident has hardly died down before his counterpart from the neighboring Canara constituency badly assaulted doctors in a private hospital.

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There is nothing new in elected representatives resorting to hooligan behavior to push their ways, nor has it confined to the members of any single political party. That these two worthy members of parliament belonged to the BJP is only incidental. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is also infamous for his intemperate behavior with the public servants. His Congress party colleagues have also resorted to such behavior from time to time. 

To be fair, politicians in Karnataka are a tad better in this when compared to those in the neighboring Andhra Pradesh or distant Uttar Pradesh but they seem to be fast catching up with the rest. Of late hardly a month passes without at least one such incident reported from one or the other part of the state. What is more abhorring is a very high level of public tolerance for this kind of feudal behavior by the elected representatives. People simply watch these kind of incidents as if they are some sort of entertainment, while the media hardly bother to take them seriously for routine reportage let alone for editorial condemnation, unless it is a high profile case. On the contrary when a minister was caught in a secret camera in an act of consensual sex recently the media went nonstop on giving sermons about what constituted acceptable on the part of politicians. The same media and the people in general find nothing objectionable in the abuse of power when elected representatives resort to physical assaults on government servants to push their ways.

Strangely, enough people seem to expect politicians to be tough with bureaucrats. When a politician assaults a government servant the people see a strange poetic justice because these bureaucrats as a class is perceived as tormentors of the common man. Taking a cue from the representatives the people themselves have been increasingly resorting to violence against junior level bureaucrats for all perceived cases of injustice.  Social scientist Noami Hossain has described this as instances of rude accountability. When formal mechanisms of accountability hardly work, people find nothing wrong in holding out physical threat to hold them accountable for their inactions or questionable actions.

When rude accountability is resorted to repeatedly or when it is resorted to by the law makers themselves it becomes a mockery of the rule of law. When the elected representatives indulge in such criminal behavior to “correct” the bureaucracy the criminal justice system goes soft on them. When the people resort to such behavior the elected representatives bring pressure on the system to look the other way. As a result violence becomes the acceptable solution to all genuine and perceived case of bureaucratic wrongs. Although the assaulters often take the high moral ground that they are only making a thick-skinned bureaucracy do the work expected of them, often hapless bureaucrats are punished for not toeing the lines of the powers that be. In either case, violence is not the answer. One thing that the law makers should realize is that one day they themselves will be at the victims of the culture of violence that they have nurtured.

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(The Author is a former journalist and a faculty member in Azim Premji University)

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