Criminalisation of Politics

Criminalisation of politics has been going on in West Bengal for decades now. Political violence reaches its zenith during elections and the responsibility for this, of course, lies with the political parties. When capture of power by any means is the aim and when power ceases to be a means to an end but becomes an end in itself, this is inevitable. But whether one calls it criminalisation of politics or politicisation of crime, basically it means de-idealissation of politics. Politics becomes bereft of ideology. It becomes an unprincipled pursuit of personal and party power and aggrandisement.

The unfortunate part of it is that most of those who fall victim of political violence are either innocent people or young activists of the parties who take their leaders' words seriously and never apply their minds to what they are doing. Except during the Naxal period when the police shot dead or imprisoned party leaders also, it is difficult to remember any political leader dying in political violence. They provoke, they incite, they motivate, but when the actual "action" takes place they are not to be seen anywhere near the scene.

Using criminals in politics started almost immediately after independence. In the 1957 elections to the West Bengal Assembly, the Congress fielded the then Chief Minister Dr B C Roy in the Bowbazar constituency in Calcutta. His main opponent was the undivided CPI's Md. Ismail. As the campaigning went on, Ismail gained more and more support. Dr Roy realised that he was going to lose. He then did something which he had never done before. He started door to door campaigning. A Calcutta daily published a photograph on its front page which showed Dr Roy walking on foot to campaign and close behind him was a notorious criminal of those days who was known as Gopal Pantha.

In those early days, political parties used criminals. Now many criminals have become political leaders themselves. Threats of physical violence and even murder have become routine and the language of political discourse is degenerating by the day. The deleterious effect of this is most prominent among the youth in their formative years. The net effect of this process on society will be felt for years and decades to come. Only conscious civil resistance by the citizens to those promoting violence in society can reverse this trend.


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Vol. 53, No. 46, May 16 - 22, 2021