Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Creation Myth

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog to assess the public perception of violence in politics. The question was:

Do you think that hartals and shutdowns are favoured by:
1) A minority of the political parties?
2) Almost every party in Kerala?

Of the 39 voters who voted, 30 opted for (2). Before writing this article, I might have done the same, since almost every political and trade organization in Kerala has called a shutdown at some point in its history. It is only fair to believe that no one has developed a philosophical opposition to the idea of a shutdown.

But, it also makes sense to see the other side of the coin. 9 respondents chose (1) and therein, I see a different perspective on the issue and possibly some support for what I am about to claim. I believe that violence in Kerala politics is no longer a by-product of its grassroots movements; it is actually a political institution in itself.

The notion of institutions in our state politics may seem laughable. Given the chaos, scandals and scams splayed in the public media on a daily basis, the common man may be right in thinking that our leaders have no control over their cadets and followers, let alone themselves. But, at some point you have to ask yourself – Why is politics caught in a stagnant culture where strikes and hartals called at a whim are obeyed?

After looking at the rolls from the 2006 elections, I can offer a short one: violence has become an incentive in certain parties. Much in the same way that companies promote certain executives over others by measuring their sales performances, certain parties have and continue to use violence as a yardstick for political performance. In short, he/she who makes the most noise gets promoted the fastest. And not just any noise, it has to be a ruckus that is worthy of capturing the attention of the public so often fed a stale plate of “revolutionary” politics.

By law, any person running for election has to submit information regarding their criminal history or lack therefore. This information includes the IPC sections under which a case against a candidate is charged, so it is pretty easy to figure out who is charged with what, including unlawful assembly, rioting, assault, murder or intimidation. I looked for candidates with cases charged under three large categories: unlawful obstruction (IPC 143, 145, 149, 283), rioting (146, 147, 148) and assault/intimidation (323, 332, 353, 333, 358, 152, 324, 307, 308, 508).

What I found is that on average, the left-leaning parties (CPI(M) and CPI) are accused of engaging in more than twice as many illegal obstruction activities as the next party (DIC). Below, I have listed the top ten parties when it comes to candidates who are engaged in illegal obstructions, i.e., hartals and shutdowns.

You might say that that is an unfair measure if a very small contingent is accused in an atrociously high number of cases. Well, let us take a look at the proportion of candidates charged with such cases in each party. Again, the CPI(M) and CPI parties come out on top as between 60% and 80% of their candidates have been charged with such activities. The nearest party (DIC) is about 40% culpable. Still high, but when you combine with the frequency of the charges, the left is entirely in a league of its own.

Ok, so you say, illegal obstruction activities are not that serious. After all, what is a hartal or shutdown here or there? It’s all “peaceful”. I beg to differ and I could not have a bigger begging bowl. Let us kick it up a notch and take a look at instances of rioting.

Rioting is far more serious than hartals and shutdowns, because mob violence is the worst expression of a civilization. It is what happens when people disagree to talk and resort to violence to express themselves. It is anathema to a society that overcame bigger problems like subjugation and foreign oppression through non-violence. So, how does the left score?

Why don’t we kick up the violence meter all the way? Let us take a look at how the parties rank on the basis of assault / intimidation cases.

Note that in all three categories, a candidate in the highest-scoring party is about twice as likely as the runner-up and more than thrice as likely as the second runner-up to be charged with a crime.

Lastly, I present what I like to call the “Politician of the Month” roster. Most companies hand out “Employee of the Month” awards in recognition for what they view as outstanding performance. Highly competitive organizations run themselves by differentiating between their employees’ abilities. Politics is no different. But are you at ease with the yardstick used in our current state of politics?

The conclusion is inescapable to me: there is an unspoken “revolt, then get promoted” mechanism in the left-leaning parties. Revolution and progress have become synonymous to them. How has this happened?

The story begins with the left’s entrenched appeal to the poor and downtrodden. Politics is like any other territorial battle. The most effective way to cordon off a vote bank is by ensuring that everyone else is fiercely opposed. After all, when life seems like a zero-sum game, why change the rules of the game? Why not perpetuate the perception that the haves benefit at the expense of the have-nots? Why not oppose any benefits that could have come from egalitarian land reforms by freeing industry and other more productive uses of land than agriculture? Why not see it to that the poor are actually gainfully employed? Because the left is more than an ideology in a democracy – it is a self-preserving organism like everything else.

People often juxtapose capitalism and communism as alternate economic systems. This has been our greatest folly and the biggest hoax the left has pulled off because communism is not an economic system. It is a creation myth – a story of how people fall into classes and are by birth, opposed to each other. Here is the irony though. In a dictatorship, communism has no opponents and therefore, it can happily pursue the economic welfare of all. In a democracy however, communism is just like any other political entity. And poor democracies in particular are perfect breeding grounds for the left. Because unlike other political parties, the left already has a handy divisive myth. It can protect and perpetuate its vote banks. That is why the story of class warfare has become a self-fulfilling way of life in Kerala.

Endnotes to Methodology:
I included every case, regardless of whether it was pending, bailed, stayed or sentenced. The only exceptions I made, of course, were those that were acquited, of which needless to say, there were very few. I also excluded 50 candidates whose information was not available or was illegible in the ECI database.