3.6.10

Arundhati's Ennui

Is Arundhati Roy the spokesperson of the Maoists? She can express her opinions as a commentator, but is she a Maoist? What exactly does a statement like, “Maoists have revolutionary fighting methods but not a revolutionary vision,” mean, especially when it is transposed with “We need an imagination outside of capitalism, as also communism”?

How does the vision become non-revolutionary only because, “Their mining policy is not very different from that of the state. They too would mine the bauxite instead of leaving it in the hills, which is what the people they are fighting for want”?

I think there is too much talking at cross-purposes here, conveying absolutely nothing. It would be fine if she is speaking as a writer. (She was addressing the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh where the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights had organised a meeting on ‘War on the people’.) But the tendency in the media to imbue anyone who has “spent time” with tribals and Maoists as their legitimate voices can be counterproductive. When there are killings, she obfuscates.

Their methods are not revolutionary – they are like any extremist movement; their vision was. A little reading up on the Naxalism in the 70s will reveal that. (No, watching ‘Hazaroun Khwaaishein Aisi’ will only reveal the tip of the adrenaline!) Better still, talk to Naxalites of the time. I have met a few and it was vision that sustained them.

I will be simplistic here but the fight for tribal lands is one part of the Maoist ideology. Tribal lands do not as a matter of course translate into tribal issues, for not all tribals own the land. Their displacement depends to a great degree on who is taking advantage of them.

Roy argued that Naxalite violence must be viewed in the context of the battle between tribals and corporate houses to gain control over natural resources like minerals, water and forests. "While 99 percent of Maoists are tribals, 99 percent of tribals are not Maoists."

Corporate houses have to work in tandem with the state. Tribals have to work with landlords.

A movement that works at the grassroots level cannot be dependent on imagination. And who is the ‘we’ that needs to imagine? The government? The Maoists? The activists? The tribals who are not Maoists, but who will benefit? Or those that may not because there could well be a pecking order? Capitalism and Communism are mere labels in this context.

Lauding the Maoists for the determination with which they are fighting the unjust policies of the state, Roy said a little bit of dissent would only make them strong. “We can’t betray the causes we are fighting for.’’


A little bit of dissent? It has been a long struggle and there is no doubt that the state has suppressed the movement at various times.

Clarifying that she was “not here to defend killing by any side’’, Roy said the government was vilifying the Maoists so that they could brand all struggles against injustice as Maoist activities.

“There is a whole bandwidth of resistance movement and at the heart of the problem is land. But the complex situation is being simplified by the government into a law and order issue.”

Much as I support dissent, I do not agree that the government is simplifying the issue. It is a law and order problem too. All such movements are, but the state is forced to speak to the leaders of these movements, which is itself evidence that it has to be taken seriously. It is ridiculous to assume that all struggles will be branded as Maoist activities. Have the insurgents in any other part of the country been branded so?

My question is: even if they are, what is the problem? Is Ms. Roy trying to say that other movements are not necessary and only those that get sanctioned from a group of the right kind of activists are worthy of being considered of any consequence?

Later, when asked what she felt as a writer about the UPA government’s attempts to ban a book on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Roy said, “Of course, I am against any kind of censorship but here we’re are talking about the silencing of a genocide.”

Of course. But if the state is interfering in any aspect of a person’s or group’s right to freedom of living/expression then we are speaking about the same root of the problem. If someone chooses to see a branch with more succulent fruit, then it is all about pickings. Incidentally, there has been a blockade of essential supplies to Manipur for over 50 days.

It isn’t a sexy enough issue.

Regarding Maoists, Roy said:

“I am bored of posing questions to the state. It is more interesting to question the people in the resistance movement.”


True. Except that the resistance movement is fighting the state and the state has to be made answerable and to provide alternatives/solutions. The idea of a resistance movement is to resist; it does not exist in a vacuum or thrive in one. It is posited against the state and that is bloody damn interesting. Nice word. Now if only she weren’t bored. Which she is not when making dramatic assertions:

"I am on this side of line. I do not care...pick me up put me in jail."

This is mockery. Binayak Sen? Hundreds of undertrials for 'suspicious activities'? She does not care. Right.

8 comments:

  1. She is publicity seeker and will grab the issues in the news.She is not spokesman but gets on the news

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  2. I think Roy would make a more compelling case if she can convince us that 1) life for tribals under Maoist rule would be significantly better than the current state of affairs (that is, the Maoists would do things differently and life would improve), and 2) if the Maoists come to power they would tolerate dissent and remain democratic. In particular, provide the kind of democracy which Roy thinks does not exist in India today.

    Roy thinks that India is a failed democracy. But would championing the cause of Maoists remedy the failure? There is no evidence to support the assertion that a Maoist form of government is better than the current form. What is required is that the government work for the betterment of tribals and all of the poor and dispossessed. To support any cause just because it is against a supposedly "failed" system appears unwise.

    I wonder if Roy has ever cared to ask herself one question: where will she be allowed to speak as freely as she does? In our flawed democracy, or in a Maoist dictatorship?

    The alternative to our flawed democracy is improved democracy, and I do not think that armed struggle or a violent dictatorship is the way forward.

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  3. A publicity hound like Arundhati Roy's greatest fear is being ignored -- she seems to think that her popularity from winning the Booker and her two-faced rhetoric will protect her if colluded with terrorist elements waging a war against the state.

    Some should inform that quasi-educated, arrogant twit that the way forward is to strengthen constitutional guarantees, not following maoist ideology that has a fundamental aim of destroying the constitution -- the textbook definition of an enemy of the state, which is what she wants to be remembered as...she should be granted her wish.

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  4. Ratnam:

    I do agree with Roy that we are a failed democracy, but one failure does not ensure that the opposition would be a success as you allude.

    She and many others might be allowed to speak if the causes they espouse wrest power, but then they will be merely echoing establishment ideas. My beef, and I have said this earlier, is that after refusing to be called an activist she wishes to speak as one and be respected as one. This makes questioning minds ask how you cannot commit to something or commit selectively at a given point in time.

    However, regarding your queries, here is what I think:

    I think Roy would make a more compelling case if she can convince us that 1) life for tribals under Maoist rule would be significantly better than the current state of affairs (that is, the Maoists would do things differently and life would improve), and 2) if the Maoists come to power they would tolerate dissent and remain democratic. In particular, provide the kind of democracy which Roy thinks does not exist in India today.

    1. She would not know; there is no single stripe of Maoist thought and there is no experience to go by.
    2. She does not care. Personally I do not think dissent groups can be democratic because they are formulated on the basis of opposing power and wresting it.

    What is required is that the government work for the betterment of tribals and all of the poor and dispossessed. To support any cause just because it is against a supposedly "failed" system appears unwise.

    I think most of us do end up supporting causes; the important point is for us not to speak as authorities. For, there will be different versions. It is difficult for citizens to make governments answerable, which is why groups protest or seek independent solutions.

    If only there were more real voices that could be heard and who agreed to make the government answerable and force it to make decisions beneficial to the tribals they represent.
    --
    KB:

    I think for a starved media, anything looks like food. Keep her out of the news and then see…
    --

    Al:

    Why throw the baby with the bathwater…or shall I say the bathwater with the babe?

    The Maoist movement has existed for years before Roy came on the scene. I find it remarkable how an idiotic media runs after those 2,3 names. How the Narmada Bachao Andolan was taken from right under Medha Patkar’s nose…

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  6. Farzana,
    Sorry for a rather delayed response on this post of yours. Actually meant to do this earlier but worplace exigencies prevented me from posting a detailed response.
    The response is multi-part with appropriate headers/ trialers indicating response start end.
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    Part 1 of Response starts
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    A couple of things here....
    First , the Maoists.
    I see two parts (separate but interrelated) of the Maoist movement. One, the militarism and other part the Political one. Politically speaking, Maoists have been unable to advance beyond the traditional "we picked arms because social economic circumstances forced us" line , largely - andi mostly - limiting the their political struggle to tribal belt. Moving beyond their zone of military influence and throwing up challenges to the established political system in the form alternate political force promising a better and more humane system has never been something "Maoists" (I am referring to the current PWG/MCC combine as Maoists here) ever attempted, leave alone succeeded.
    For organizations like the "Maoists" that intend to overthrow the current established state (as a representative of political order) and establish a new one - the tension has always been between openness of functioning and a secret / underground way of working. So far, with the Maoists - the secreteism appears to be having upper hand and hence the obsession with Military line.
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    Part 1 of Response ends
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  7. --------------------------------
    Part 2 of Response starts
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    Once the militarism gains upperhand - political campaigning takes a backseat, mostly leaving the organization to defend
    its turf militarily, thereby engaging with state in a military warfare - subjugating its political line.
    As things degenrate - the different groups operating start gaining in influence , at times taking up terrorist "actions"
    totally deviating from the political ideology.
    The Gyaneshwari express episode **might** be one such instance of "un-controlled" actions.
    (The personal emphasis here is on **might be** - just some "extrapolatory thinking" on my part based on news feeds).

    Second, About tribals....
    I have a rather vague feeling here that we might be witnessing a rise of "national consciousness" among tribals.
    Maoists may not realise this but their proletariat "struggle" might actually have forged a tribal national consciousness.
    Plus, the Indian state appears to be equally keen in bolstering this political emotion resorting to strong arm tactics.
    A related anecdote here - in early nineties the Times Of India columnist (late) Dr. Arvind Das - commenting in the context of Jharkhand movement - had once warned about the possible anarchism. With the combination of abundantly accessible explosives - owing to mining activities - and tribal exploitation, he likened the kashmir situation (then ) to a tea party if the "tribal awakening" were to get militant. Appears that the real party might have just begun.

    Third , About Arundhati Roy....
    My trouble with her discourse has been her shying away from the "situational complexity", and - naively - either blindly siding or distancing from the "militarist voilence" of Maoists. Once the complexity is shied away from, all that is left is rhetoric. Having said this , I don't see her as a "traitor" as some of your blog commentators say. If anybody intends to fight her line of thinking - level with her thinking and then point out the fallacies. Resorting to polished invectives for her just because she chose sides - albeit naively - is hardly going to be of help here.

    Finally, Farzana, about your "Naxalite Oldies".....
    I am curious about what exactly - when they talk about the vision - has sustained them ? Have they been chanting "Marxism / Leninism (and perhaps - Maoism too) " day in day out ? Any different from chanting "Hari Om " ? Do they realise the ideological and operational challenges the communist movement has gone through ? And what part of them has the ideology sustained ? Personal ? Political ? Is their so called resorting to "sustained by the ideology" any different from Gandhian idealism ? I am curious, and yes - pissed off by this "sustained by ideology" thing. Would love to learn more about it.


    Cheers,
    Mahesh.

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    Part 2 of Response Ends
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    Multi-Part Response Ends here
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  8. Mahesh:


    Mostly agree with your thesis in Part 1 about differentiating between militarism and the political aspect.

    In Part 2, you say:

    As things degenrate - the different groups operating start gaining in influence , at times taking up terrorist "actions" totally deviating from the political ideology.

    1.Maoists: There is a possibility of political ideology transforming into terrorist action as a response. It is creating an order 'within'.

    2 Tribals: --The tea party reference reduces another struggle.

    The mainstreaming of national consciousness seems imposed rather than sprouting from a groundswell of the larger identity.

    3. AR: I do not agree she is a traitor but then some of us have been called so irrespective of what we say.

    My Naxalite oldies will need to be examined in detail some other time. Needless to say, there is no one stream of thought.

    PS: Hope your work exigencies are of the nice kind.

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