The Election Commission (EC) is taking great pains to ensure that the forthcoming polls are free of violence. But political parties seem to have other ideas. Barely has the campaign for elections 2014 begun than there have been violent clashes between AAP and BJP workers.
The provocation for the violence is the detention of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal by the Gujarat Police to check on whether he had violated the model code of conduct. It is possible that this may have been unwarranted but nothing excuses the manner in which AAP leaders Ashutosh and Shazia Ilmi led protestors to the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
The protestors turned, violent hurling bricks and chairs at the BJP office, and the AAP leaders were unable to control the crowds. But this is not to suggest that the BJP showed any restraint. Its workers attacked AAP members in Lucknow in retaliation. Although Mr Kejriwal has expressed regret for the incident involving his party workers, the police have filed FIRs against Ashutosh and Ms Ilmi.
Mr Kejriwal cannot entirely escape the blame for his party workers’ behaviour because it is he who has been the leading light in the practice of taking to the streets at the drop of a hat. But a responsible party cannot rely on agitprop politics for each issue. Those who led the protestors should have made every effort to ensure that they could make their sentiments be heard in a peaceful manner.
The BJP too should not have engaged in street violence against a party which is seen as the underdog. The AAP leaders’ agitational politics, which marked the party’s 49-day stint in power in Delhi, seems to have set the benchmark for its workers who seem unable to internalise Mr Kejriwal’s exhortations to adopt Gandhian methods of protest.
It is odd that the BJP should be so rattled by AAP’s protests when as a national party it should have displayed much greater calm. We can only hope this is an aberration and not a sign of things to come in this election. The BJP seems in no mood to let things go as is evident from its protest to the EC on AAP’s conduct. The EC, which has strived greatly to conduct the whole election process as smoothly as possible, is not likely to take kindly to this deviant behaviour.
But ultimately, it is not the censure of the EC which should keep parties in line. The party leadership has to take responsibility for the conduct of its workers. If the workers understand that any violent behaviour does not have the sanction of the leaders and that they will face disciplinary action, even suspension or expulsion, we are likely to see a drastic reduction in such mindless violence on minor issues.