Parties to blame for uptick in political violence in Odisha

All major parties have fielded candidates with similar backgrounds.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.Credit | Wikimedia Commons

The bitter fight between the main opponents in Odisha’s twin polls has seen blood spilling on the streets. Last Saturday, two incumbent MLAs were booked for multiple violent incidents in the state’s Khordha and Angul districts. One of them, a BJP nominee, was held for alleged vandalism as well as manhandling polling officials in a booth. The arrest of a major national party’s candidate during an election is a first for Odisha. The other case was of a BJD candidate accused of assaulting a BJP worker.

The first major incidence of violence at these elections was reported in Ganjam immediately after the first phase of polling in the state on May 13, when BJP’s Berhampur Lok Sabha candidate came under attack hours after voting concluded. Two days later, a BJP worker was hacked to death allegedly by BJD workers during a poster campaign in the same district. The subsequent phases of polling have seen an uptick in violence, including arson, clashes and bomb attacks. There have been reports of voters bearing the brunt for refusing to abide by the diktats of candidates in parts of the state.

It is necessary to scratch the surface to understand the fundamental reason behind this spate of violence: the muscle power political parties use to win elections. An analysis of the state’s assembly candidates’ backgrounds by the Association of Democratic Reforms revealed that the share of major political parties’ nominees who have criminal cases lodged against them ranged from 17 percent to 68 percent. At least 58 percent of BJP candidates have serious charges against them, compared to 22 percent for the BJD and 30 percent for the Congress. The accused in the Berhampur attack is an independent candidate for an assembly seat who has 46 cases pending against him. All major parties have fielded candidates with similar backgrounds.

The BJD has been pointing fingers at the saffron party for fielding candidates charged with serious crimes, while the BJP continues to allege that the ongoing violence has patronage of the ruling party and the police administration. The fact remains that as long as political parties have no qualms about welcoming candidates with criminal antecedents into their folds, violence as a weapon to influence polls will continue unabated.

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