As the world’s largest democracy, India delivers the world’s largest exercise in voter participation and is fast becoming a source for advice on free and fair elections across the globe. Since independence in 1947, India has been employing parliamentary democracy as the central government mechanism. Despite its long history and credible electoral management, the incidence of electoral violence has grown along with Indian democracy. This trend reflects a complex mixing of socio-political factors and keen competition for political dominance among political parties. Elections, violence, hate and criminality have become intertwined over the decades. Strictly implemented reforms that covered the election process, from voter registration and identity cards to a code of conduct for candidates to the adoption of electronic voting machines, have largely succeeded in securing the actual election process. But, Indian democracy continues to be plagued by criminal elements.
The election violence in India can be categorized as follows;
-Dominance of money power and muscle power
-Criminalization of politics
-Intimidation of voters
-Tampered electoral rolls
-Large-scale electoral rolls
-Abuse of religion and caste in the enlistment of voters
States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Jammu and Kashmir are particularly notorious, although violent clashes have occurred everywhere during elections at some point. Many groups attempt to prevent people from voting, or try to influence the final decision, by using violent means. Seen in this light, the quality of policing has a direct impact on the democratic rights of the people. The police forces in India face considerable burden due to the competitive nature of elections, difficult terrain, poor infrastructure, limited resources and organizational limitations.
Violence such as killings, booth capturing, protests and poll-related violence finally declined in state assembly elections in 2000 as caste-based discrimination and conflict eased. In 2007, the officials from India’s Elections Administration, the Election Commission of India have initiated a new approach to decrease the conflict during campaign periods. A new technique called “vulnerability mapping” was designed to help identify which polling places would be most prone to the thuggery, then efficient police and paramilitary forces will be assigned to those areas. The ECI collects data such as the size of the population under that polling station, known criminals in that area, soft targets for attack, history of election violence, and past voter turnout. Actions such as preventive arrests and additional security cover are taken. At polling places throughout the country, thugs (known as “gundas” in local parlance) hired by campaigners often intimidated, harassed, threatened, or bribed citizens — preventing them from casting their ballots. Not only did such activities disenfranchise many voters, they also resulted in violence and sometimes death.
Apart from the problems mentioned above, women in India has also become victims of election violence through their associations as in post-conflict and non-conflict countries, women often rose to political visibility as partners, wives, mothers and daughters of political personalities. In these roles they became targets for political opponents seeking to intimidate and disrupt electoral proceedings. As women’s political visibility rises, so does their vulnerability to electoral violence targeted at political leaders and candidates. Women are increasingly becoming victims of electoral violence in India, as they join social movements and nongovernmental advocacy networks to voice their political concerns, including defense of human rights. Participation in local civil society groups has skyrocketed in the past two decades. Inevitably, as these groups clash with police, governments, rival parties or other opposing groups in both public and private protest, the number of violent incidents and the number of female victims of violence increase.
Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia, UNDP, 2011, http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Democratic%20Governance/UNDP_elections_violence_AP.pdf.
Norio Kondo, Election Studies in India: Discussion Paper No. 98, 2007, http://www.ide.go.jp/English/Publish/Download/Dp/pdf/098.pdf.
Michael Scharff, Policing Electoral Violence in India, Foreign Policy, March 21, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/21/policing-electoral-violence-in-india/.
Electoral Violence, Threats and Security: Problems and Prospects for Indian Democracy, Chanchal Kumar, 2015, https://www.pmi.org/learning/PM-Network/2014/india-election-planning-and-execution.aspx
PDF : Electoral Violence, Threats and Security: Problems and Prospects for Indian Democracy (Chanchal Kumar, American Journal of Social Science Research: 2015)
PDF : Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India (Steven I. Wilkinson: 2004)
Link : Policing Electoral Violence in India (Foreign Policy: 2013)
Link : Low turnout, more violence as Kashmiris boycott India poll (Dawn: 2014)