Arundhati and Anna: Same Saints

Arundhati Roy, with a touch of sarcasm, calling Anna Hazare a saint is like the Pope holding back a canonisation until a really good miracle takes place. Ms. Roy is probably funnier than she might imagine, for you don’t even have to scratch the skin to figure out that she and Anna Hazare are from the same stock of hand-wavers from the Vatican balcony.

She refers to Anna’s moves as canny and notes his sense of timing in a mint-'fresh' piece in The Hindu. One wonders whether she realises that it is precisely what she has been doing. Where were her impassioned op-ed pieces on this subject all these months? This is classic Roy territory: Wait until the opportune moment where the momentum has gathered enough steam and then join the rally as the ‘other’ voice. She has said nothing that is different or new that those who oppose the ‘people’s movement’ – yes, we have put it in single quotes before – have not commented on.

This is typical. A bit like Aamir Khan – great marketing strategy. It is as though she woke up, had her cuppa, switched on the TV (oh, she does watch it), saw those teeming thousands and the farce and decided it was time to swoop down on history in the making by playing the tragedy queen. It is easy for her because her CV has nice little sticky notes with ‘causes’ or at least stuff she has read. So, out pops Irom Sharmila of Manipur, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which she quietly sneaked out of, the Bhopal Gas leak, farmers in NOIDA, Pune and Haryana, nuclearisation. Did she comment on the rapes and murders, individual cases, by her St. Stephen’s crowd?

The worrying aspect of her piece is that she has strung together all that she could source and made a complete mish-mash of it. And if she has problems with certain terminology being used by Team Anna, such as “civil society”, then what has she been doing in her write-ups and lectures?

The problem is not primarily with what she is saying but why she is saying it. Is she really in a position to point fingers at saintliness when her own halo is glowing?

She has issues with the Anna jail yatra:

Then, on August 16th, the morning of his second “fast unto death,” before he had begun his fast or committed any legal offence, Anna Hazare was arrested and jailed. The struggle for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill now coalesced into a struggle for the right to protest, the struggle for democracy itself. Within hours of this ‘Second Freedom Struggle,' Anna was released. Cannily, he refused to leave prison, but remained in Tihar jail as an honoured guest, where he began a fast, demanding the right to fast in a public place. For three days, while crowds and television vans gathered outside, members of Team Anna whizzed in and out of the high security prison, carrying out his video messages, to be broadcast on national TV on all channels. (Which other person would be granted this luxury?)

Lady, you! Recall how she would go on and on about her “put me in jail” rant when she was doing the Maoists? Remember how she sat with Syed Shah Geelani discussing Azadi in New Delhi even as there was local turmoil in the Valley?

Geelani & Roy

Then again, there was the sedition business that she was feeding on. Her riposte was that this was nothing new. Exactly. This is what the people have been demanding, but they have died for it and they did not hobnob with a pro-Pakistani activist or want to go to jail to prove a personal point. They are dying because of the callousness of the militants and the security agencies. Does anyone remember that her first words against being misquoted in the Indian media were in a Pakistani newspaper, a front page article that too? We do see her on TV, so her words are being broadcast as well. She chooses her channels, like her causes, well.

It is true that Anna Hazare has not spoken on several issues, but like her he is probably biding his time. This hunger fast is wonderful for now. I mean, did we hear Ms. Roy come out strongly against the lobbyists when the controversy was at its peak? Has she named anyone? No. When she was specifically asked about two people, she came up with this: “They’ve made it worse for themselves.”

So, indeed Anna is riding a media wave and some of us have been saying so for long. Has she done anything that has not been designed to get attention? Even at her recent book release at Habitat Centre, there was a hue and cry about rightwing parties barging in, shouting slogans, and threatening. She loves to be threatened. If anyone has watched clips, you will see some fellows throwing pamphlets in the air and the saint of small things sitting right there with a beatific smile.


The worst aspect of her causes célèbre is that she cleverly weaves in communalism, not unlike the Imams and Shankaracharyas. She did it a while ago when she used the Muslims to make a Maoist point. She has done it again, berating Anna:

He does however support Raj Thackeray's Marathi Manoos xenophobia and has praised the ‘development model' of Gujarat's Chief Minister who oversaw the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. (Anna withdrew that statement after a public outcry, but presumably not his admiration.)
Despite the din, sober journalists have gone about doing what journalists do. We now have the back-story about Anna's old relationship with the RSS.

Then she dishes out some material about his relationship with the RSS. Never mind that she has taken her time over it; perhaps she was waiting for Ramzan or something. It is true that the Hindutva groups are supporting him, but bringing in this is counterproductive and diversionary when discussing the simplistic nature of this movement. Her arguments fall flat because his supporters, however superficial the reasons, are from several regions.

Interestingly, Muslim clerics have spoken out against Imam Bukhari and are with Anna. Many Muslims are also with Arundhati. They believe that such characters speak up for them. While Anna made a wrong move, Roy will not. She is obviously secular, but why does she not speak up on behalf of Sikhs or Christians? Why this special thing for Muslims? Because Muslims are happening. And the community members are so grateful for ‘non political’ voices from outside that they lap up this trivial caring, as though they are socially challenged. Has she spoken out against any fatwa ever? Has she taken on the imams and maulvis ever? Is she afraid her secularism will be seen as suspect? Oh, I forgot. She likes that. Remember, “put me in jail”?

It is precious that she takes on the activists when it suits her:

Worse, by demonising only the Government they have built themselves a pulpit from which to call for the further withdrawal of the State from the public sphere and for a second round of reforms — more privatisation, more access to public infrastructure and India's natural resources. It may not be long before Corporate Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.

Fine. Now, will she check out the mirror? Haven’t the Maoists who she has gone for a walk with (the sample group, okay? Just like Anna’s ‘people’ are) demonised the government – what is her position on that? What ‘corporate’ lobby does she belong to? Who sponsors her seminars? Where does all that money come from?

I have said it often enough that NGOs need to be accountable, the media needs to be accountable. It means everyone. What is rather surprising is that Arundhati Roy actually gives the Mahatma a flying kiss:

While his means may be Gandhian, Anna Hazare's demands are certainly not. Contrary to Gandhiji's ideas about the decentralisation of power, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a draconian, anti-corruption law, in which a panel of carefully chosen people will administer a giant bureaucracy, with thousands of employees, with the power to police everybody from the Prime Minister, the judiciary, members of Parliament, and all of the bureaucracy, down to the lowest government official.

Both Gandhi and Anna are extra-constitutional powers. Gandhi was by no means egalitarian. Read The Gandhian Orgy and you will see how this morality goes against the nature of democracy. Arundhati would not know, or will turn the other cheek. That is how martyrs are made – give your best profile shot. Anna is deciding who he will talk to from the government. This is the problem with such movements. They thrive on a ‘chosen’ few. And that includes Ms. Roy too.

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Note: I repeat, I do not support Team Anna or any such movement. 


  1. FV

    Nearly fell off my chair when I read that, yesterday!


  2. FV,

    My adorable far-right-wing friend was presenting his carefully prepared arguments about how Anna movement is anti-democracy and how fasting is blackmail etc.

    I asked him the following:

    1. What he thought of Ayodhya movement. Whether it was a legitimate democratic movement.

    2. If fasting is undemocratic blackmail, then what was rasta roko, riots, burning of buses etc.

    I am still waiting for an answer. Nobody wants to hear inconvenient questions!

  3. FV Aunty :
    1. 'Saint of small thing' - lolzzzz
    2. on Shankaracharyas improve your knowledge
    3. Modiji again appeared :)
    4. Why don't you support Anna?
    Come on atleast praise something, I would love to read non criticizing article by you

    Kid :D

  4. With recession here in the West, Indian intellectuals (esp. St. Stephens and Doon School kind) have no prospect of gainful employment so they are bidding their time. So, poor Indians will just have to suffer them until situation here improves...

    Anna forbid it may be forever. (Yeah, I just promoted Anna to God-hood).

  5. No one is afraid of inconvenient questions: some are afraid to answer. Leave aside the 'right wing'/'left wing' rhetoric ... unless both wings flap the birdie don't fly.

    1. The Ayodhya movement may find its legitimacy in the 'right to protest' but the demolition of the Babri Masjid was one of the darkest moments in Indian history and I was pained and ashamed to see the fabric of this country's secularism destroyed, on that day.
    2. Rasta roko, riots and burning of buses are mindless, affect the poor and defenceless, burn taxpayer money and need to be dealt with severely.
    3. Anna is a pawn in the hands of the political ambitions of his megalomaniac 'handlers', B,K & B. The question should be reframed to ask why one is for or against the LPB or JLPB. I am against any such legislation which will only create another layer of bureaucracy (more taxpayer money) and an extra layer of corruption. The answer is in admin reforms, streamlining systems (e.g. try having a motor vehicle transferred from one State to another. I did recently ... without paying a rupee. The RTO office killed me with paperwork and running around for 2 months. I could have had it done in 20 minutes for Rs. 4000.), Tax reforms, rationalization of stamp duty ... etc. The way to do it is to remove the basis and incentive for corruption. A three year tax holiday and no scrutiny on cash - and all the black money will come into the banking system. Suggested reading: The Darker Side of Black Money - B V Kumar.


  6. TigerEye : Stop chest beating on ayodhya, you should be ashamed of partition first. It can be called forced structure/disputed structure.

  7. VM

    What do you know about partition and what it did to families like mine ... Suggest you read 'The Other Side of Silence' (Urvashi Butalia).

    Get your fundas straight on the demolition of Babri Masjid.


  8. It was not a masjid it was a forced structure. Do i have to read books to learn what happened in India from 1945 to 47??

  9. It would be a good idea for you to read some books ... since you seem far removed from reality. Here's another one ... Beyond Turk and Hindu Ed. Gilmartin & Lawrence.

    All these semantic debates about whether whether it was a masjid or a forced structure are inimical to a professedly tolerant society. Whatever it was, it should not have ben destroyed.


  10. Hitendra:

    Thank you.


    Why did you not tell me before, so that I would have produced something more edge-of-the-seat, like Tarantula Tanrantino?


    How about changing your friend and finding your own answers?!


    You mean to say all those NRIs dressed like Gandhi and doing the dandiya/bhangra march are between jobs? And here I thought they were all 'SAT'isfied...

  11. TE:

    Anna is mimicking the arrogance of his handlers. Arrogance is infectious. I read that Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal already had six meetings with the government functionaries while they were talking about how they wanted the govt. to come to the table. So they were not upfront about it.

    Re. Ayodhya, I am surprised that there can be any comparison. It was orchestrated by political parties and targetted at one particular group.

    I am amazed at what passes muster in the name of democracy.


    Why should individuals be "ashamed" of the Partition? It was a political act and perhaps necessary. If you look around, your precious Ayodhya movement was precisely aiming at that? And since you are thinking of the 1945-47 period, have you wondered why you do not have anything to say about what the Brits demolished? Also, why did they leave the Babri Masjid alone? And what about all those Mughal structures that get us tourism?

    There are many constructions that are built on razed buildings - history is full of such instances. You cannot dispute everything about history. It is history, remember?

    As for why I do not support Anna, go through my pieces on the subject.

    And do be civil when interacting with people here, please. Nobody knows anyone here, so the least we can do is argue without assuming knowledge about the people we address.

  12. FV

    I do not believe that a friend should be changed because his/her political views are different. Quite the contrary actually. Friendship with people of opposite views is more productive than reading a thousand random articles in Countercurrents. Am I not still reading your blog and commenting on it? :)

    I must hasten to state here that it is eminently readable! Journalists take offence faster than they take suggestions! :)

  13. F&F:

    This is such a Bollywood moment, and I must hasten to add I love B'wood. Of course, the change your friends was rhetorical...I should have said change yourself!

    People who you disagree with may also write for Countercurrents and elsewhere. Do the pieces become more attractive when re-posted on the blog?

    Thanks for being such a pillar of support and commenting. But I should hope the "readability" quotient is not because you are the kind who wouldn't hurt a fly because 1)I may fly but am not one; 2) Journalism is my past and no journalist wants me in their coterie. Next time don't call me names, please. It's just a suggestion, so don't get touchy :)

  14. FV : Tejo Mahalay converted to Taj Mahal. Which is attracting tourists from decades. :)

    Where I used foul language? If someone take the name of Ayodhya I will reply, if it fall under incivility for you, can't help.


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