Intimations of an enfeebled state

Political parties often conflate their party in power as the state. Out of this perceived equation, they give a role to their supporters, workers and acolytes for sharing the spoils of power.

Published: 08th May 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th May 2022 03:00 PM   |  A+A-

Political parties often conflate their party in power as the state. Out of this perceived equation, they give a role to their supporters, workers and acolytes for sharing the spoils of power. When the state encourages their acolytes to rule the street, they actually cede power to their own detriment.

Recently, both on Ram Navami and on Hanuman Jayanti, the Hindutva brigade went around in the Muslim locality brandishing swords, hoisting flags in the mosques and spoiling for a fight. Ashutosh Varshney in his research has found that such kind of processions has been the most volatile trigger of the majority communal riots in India, though in the past Ram Navami celebration or Hanuman Jayanti had barely been strident enough to create riots.

All field administrators restrict such kind of processions by meticulously avoiding routes which would result in face-offs and fracas. But when the intention is to show off strength as a majority and to deny dignity to the other side then the entire state system falls silent. Police will not take action, the judiciary will not decide and the miscreants can go on with their mischiefs with impunity. It may not be directed by the higher-ups but the players know that it will not go down badly as long as it fits into a master script.

Such ‘accumulated radicalisation’ has inbuilt incentives and rewards. It is about exacting revenge for some stated unfairness centuries ago as well as for inflicting humiliation by combining the state power with the street power. Research shows vigilantism of such type cannot flourish without the cover of impunity from the state.

There are good reasons for the state to have a monopoly over violence. While using brute force the consideration of essentiality and even-handedness is a must and their desired safeguards are to be guaranteed by bureaucracy, police and judiciary. But what happens when the dark mob is allowed to go unchecked? The state loses control over violence and unfettered and uncoordinated hateful violence eventually threatens the state and its legitimacy. The fringe becomes the core when this empowered mob is duly abetted by the infirmity of all institutions. With the incentives loaded in favour, a decentralised ecosystem of Sadhus, Sadhvis and newly emerging local groups, merging and morphing on a whim will sprout at the grassroots level to attain power and influence. This leads to a contestation between the state and these motley groups usually resulting in the erosion of state power.

Such competition for local power and influence comes with economic benefits too. News is trickling in now about these mob leaders collecting hafta, peace money and indulging in extortion. This can only leapfrog from now onwards rather than dialling down. We are aware that legit industries and investments move to places where the law and order is better. Law and order is not what we see as policemen or magistrates in action do or the law of the land being enforced. It is more a function of negotiation between the top politicians and the grassroots players in defining and adhering to the minimal threshold of trouble-making. States like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have brought it to a tolerable level where investment does take place. Where things have fallen apart, these negotiations are impossibilities. The opposite is true here in the marketplace of use of force and no negotiation is possible with such decentralised and difficult-to-control vigilante groups. In a way, they are on their own. When a state has abandoned neutrality to begin with, it can do very little to influence the agenda set by such disparate groups ruling the street.

It is said that the members of the disbanded Indian National Army played their cards in Punjab supporting one side or the other during the Partition based on their identity. That is about a group steeped in the ethos of secularism and higher ideals of patriotism. Even Second World War veterans played the role in leading violent ethnic cleansing where one religion was in majority and had more veterans.  

But when neutrality is given a go-by by the state, it cannot be controlled. Instead, it will attain a life of its own, much to the distress and consternation of the state power. Currently, we may be looking at the nascent shape of this anarchy to come.

(Views are personal)

Satya Mohanty

Former Secretary, Government of India


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  • SK

    The most pathetic ex-babu. It is because of such people
    9 months ago reply
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