Violence seems to simmer below the surface of everyday life almost all the time nowadays, and some places show it more than others. Patna erupted in fire and conflict in protest against the meaningless death of three young men in the hands of the police in the city. It is difficult to distinguish cause and effect in this chain of violence. There seems to be no explanation so far as to why the police decided that these young men, reportedly arguing with a telephone booth owner over the bill, were “hardened criminals”. A violent ethos affects lawbreakers and lawkeepers alike, and makes victims of the innocent. But an ethos cannot operate as an excuse for trigger-happy policemen, whether in Bihar or elsewhere. There is only one thing as terrifying, that is a public so practised in violence that it can go on a rampaging spree at the hint of opposition. Protest against police recklessness took the most destructive form in Patna, where youthful supporters of the bandh following the deaths broke and burnt vehicles in an extremely effective manner. It is not indiscipline that is the point at issue here, but the new phenomenon of disciplined violence.
It can hardly come as a surprise that the opposition, with the National Democratic Alliance and Samata Party especially vocal, should cash in on the public’s anger. By calling a bandh, the opposition ensured more violence and a major disruption of the normal life in the rest of the country by the holding up of long-distance trains. Not one party is willing to ask the question whether this is the best way to remember the young men who have been so needlessly killed, to remind the country of them, or to bring the guilty to justice. That, of course, would be to confess to a serious attempt to improve the lawless situation in Bihar, and immediately disqualify the party from playing in the political arena. Bihar’s lawlessness suits politicians of all shades, otherwise Ms Rabri Devi’s government would have tottered before this. It is still not clear what the bandh achieved: the state government is unruffled and the guilty policemen seem to have vanished. The only thing a bandh encourages is further lawlessness.