In election time, violence between supporters of rival candidates happens everywhere. But gun violence during elections is entirely a new phenomenon in Manipur. There were several reports of violence with the use of licensed and unlicensed guns in the recent elections. A student was shot to death by supporters of a rival candidate and injured three others.
Police found several empty shells of bullet rounds fired during the night lying around in the streets. A candidate and the father of a candidate shot at. Bullets from single or double barrel guns, licensed or unlicensed, were flying around and injuring even bystanders. Such violence is not confined to the valley areas but in the hills also.
Violence related to election campaigns have never been like this serious. In the valley, armed violence during elections were mostly from armed UGs who make it a habit to demand money from both political parties and candidates, while in the hills it is a case of intimidation of voters and booth capturing by armed groups and factions in favour of their candidates.
Post-election violence is rare, but it happens. Almost a year had gone by after the assembly elections and enmity between political parties should have gone for good. And we fail to understand, why there is such bitterness and hatred between the ruling and opposition groups. In the foreseeable future, there seems to be nothing of substance to rock the boat of the BJP government and the opposition Congress does not have the number or muscle power to cause any worthwhile trouble.
It seems the recent spurt in political violence was triggered by a recent local TV debate on the government’s much publicised ‘War on Drugs’ where two youth leaders of BJP and Congress practically came to blows. Either these TV debates are sometimes poorly moderated or such unruly behaviour or unseemly language is encouraged because of TRP ratings is open to question. Panellists need to be prepped on certain limitations while participating in such debates. We have high regard for the media houses hosting such debates in public interest.
But, since the fury and discord in the TV room debate had spilled over in the streets one needs to take care. On the day of the recent controversial debate, the Youth Congress leader N Popilal was accosted by BJP youth volunteers and with police intervention he had to be escorted home.
On the next night, the BJP youth leader Sureshkumar and another were waylaid by some miscreants on his way home and thrashed. The youth Congress leader’s home was raided by police. And, it does not end here. The next day, petrol bombs were hurled at the Congress Bhavan located in the heart of the city, followed by rotten eggs and shots fired at the home of a Congress Vice-President. Why is this happening? The culprit here seems to be the recent rise in gun culture in the state.
Gun licenses were issued by the state Home Department through the DCs under strict supervision and not everyone who applies gets the license and there is even talk of a racket handling these cases for the right amount to grease the palms of those involved in handling files and issuing clearances.
Interestingly, many of the licensed guns ended up in the hands of the insurgents and yet again crimes involving licensed guns were very rare then. In recent times, there is a proliferation of licensed guns everywhere as everyone with means can obtain a gun license and procure guns.
One must understand that, the attitude of a person having a gun license starts changing as soon he or she acquires the gun and feels it in their hands and the smell of gunpowder stimulates a hidden power in him. A license gun holder begins looking at every situation even if unthreatening through the prism of the barrel. So, there were instances of pulling out guns in even domestic squabbles. Add to that, when the said licensed gun holder is tipsy or drunk.
Most sadly, it has become a prestige symbol in recent times. And we feel, persons with political backing of whatever color and armed with licensed guns are roaming around in Imphal in gangs with no fear of arrest or police action. This is unwarranted.