Posts Tagged ‘ Arundhati Roy ’

The Goddess of Revolutionary Things

Her talk at St. Xavier’s, Mumbai last month wasn’t a table-thumping speech, but Arundhati Roy certainly knows how to arouse the ‘Call to Arms’ with a voice of reason.

Titled ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’, and organized by the Arunadha Ghandy Memorial Trust, Arundhati flogged the foremost ghost of India’s crony capitalism, Mukesh Ambani, for a recent deal he made with Raghav Bahl, promoter of Network18. Arundhati urged citizens to oppose such policies and laws that allow big corporates to gain unethically from unbridled cross-ownership of businesses.

Arundhati Roy with Fr. Frazer, Principal, St. Xavier's College(Anuradha Ghandy in background)

What’s the big fuss about RIL’s deal with Network18?

Ambani will gain indirect control over Network18 and Raghav Bahl will in turn be shepherding RIL’s investment in the network of ETV channels, run by Ramoji Rao’s Ushodaya Enterprises. It calls into question the matter of editorial independence once RIL can control the formerly autonomous media houses.

One can certainly see Arundhati’s point when it comes to big corporate acquiring media houses. As journalist P. Sainath warned, “It only adds to the process of shrinkage of diversity and lends itself to increasing homogeneity in news and entertainment. The fourth estate is now about revenue streams and corporate profits – really just real estate”.

The deal received a lot of flattering coverage in the business media, but whatever critical analysis it was subjected to was reported in the Mumbai Mirror as part of covering Arundhati’s visit to St. Xavier’s. So basically the MM pulled off a “That’s what she said” on its readers. It’s easy to stifle debate by suggesting that it’s coming from a crazy bitch.

Political Prisoners Much?

One would think that Arun Ferreira would be much sought after at the event after having been released on bail from Nagpur Central Jail after 4 years of incarceration without trial. He was acquitted and released in 10 cases in September 2011 that alleged him to be the Chief Propagandist Officer of the CPI (Maoist) in Nagpur, and suddenly re-arrested the very same day. This galvanized his friends and supporters into organized campaigns by Fr. Frazer, Principal of St. Xavier’s College (from where Arun had graduated in Mathematics in 1990) and the Bombay Catholic Sabha, that finally lead to his release.

He didn’t turn up though, much to my disappointment, but the ghosts of his persecution left an impression on Arundhati. She spoke of how the State favours NGO-oriented kind of work in the tribal areas. As long as you distribute fruits and medicines to the tribals or the oppressed, the State is happy. But when you talk to them about why they’re poor, how they can change their situation, the State gets uncomfortable. Arundhati spoke at length about ‘think-tanks’ such as the Observation Research Foundation and NGOs like India Against Corruption, and expressed concerns over how powerful sponsors shape policy for ‘independent’ ground work. All suited for building consensus on the neo-liberal agenda for India’s ‘growth story’.

The Solution

R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N! If there was ever any doubt within the Arundhati-mania or the Arundhati-haters club about her position on the Naxalites’ ultimate goal of violent over-throw of the Indian State, she settled the matter right there…three times! The alternate solution of peace talks she’s been advocating for years has been muzzled by the State. Operation Green Hunt and the CRPF rendering the Maoist leadership ‘headless’ since 2010 certainly left no doubt about it. She went so far as to make an impassioned plea to urban citizens to support the tribals’ rights to live peacefully in their forests (read: join the struggle). Lots of hollering in the hall at this time.

Whether you hate her or disagree with her, it will do us all some good to bear the results of the State crushing the Naxalites, or of the impending revolution.

If the uprising is successful in overthrowing democracy, India as we know it might become a relic of history. Of course I would love to be optimistic about a classless and casteless society, a land of opportunity for all. But it’s hard to figure whether post-revolution India will turn out to be a Stalinist-Russia or go the Latin American way.

If however, the State pursues its current policy of wiping out the ‘Naxal-infested’ areas, a problem that is still regarded as a conflict arising out of a socio-economic imbalance from many within the Government, Democracy will survive to see the day…but at what cost? India will then go down in history as having betrayed its own people to the point of a most bloodiest-vendetta, more so terrible as they will have killed the very idea of India.

Notes

  1. Outlook’s article on the RIL-Network18 deal – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?279466
  2. Arun Ferreira’s interview with Outlook – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?279553

Why the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows Scheme Volunteers should buy Life Insurance

On 13 September 2011, Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh announced a brave initiative called the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows Scheme. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 60 districts as Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas, in lieu of which the PMRDF plans to ‘deploy’ around 180 Fellows comprising of working professionals from private organizations and fresh graduates from fields of law, management and medicine to assist the District Collectors in better civic administration for the Maoist/Naxalite ‘infested’ areas.

The Ministry of Rural Development plans on rewarding the Fellows handsomely. For the 2 year contractual agreement that the Fellows will be working in these areas, each will be paid Rs. 65,000 per month for the first year and Rs. 75,000 the next.

Besides waking up late to the developmental agenda for these zones, the MRD’s official website makes no secret of the fact that PMRDF is launched with the hopes of weaning the influence of the Naxalites amongst the tribal villagers. It’s a tough task to eliminate from public memory the fact that the Naxalites re-distributed more than 3,00,000 acres of forest land amongst the tribal villagers in Dandakaranya(covering parts of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh) over the course of their revolution.

I’m not skeptical about the PMRDF. If anything, my respect for Jairam Ramesh has notched higher every time he has walked the tight-rope of sustainable development with a lot of sensitivity to its ramifications on human rights. As Union Minister for Environment and Forests he protected the villagers of Orissa from Posco’s forced land acquisitions, prevented large-scale environmental degradation and displacement of the Kondhs in Orissa due to unbridled mining and saved the people of India from a harmful, genetically modified brinjal. For all that and more, the people ought to be proud of Ramesh for steering our ‘growth-story’ in the right direction.

But I have serious misgivings about the success of PMRDF. The timing couldn’t be more wrong.

Due to the pressure exerted by various groups of human rights activists and public intellectuals, the Home Minister had earlier maintained that the Government is always ready for ‘peace talks’. After several overtures on behalf of the Naxalites to drop weapons and come to the table, the Home Ministry had a sudden change of heart and went in an over-drive with “rendering the Naxalite movement headless”. With fake encounters of two senior politburo members, Cherukuri Rajkumar and Koteswara Rao (alias Kishanji), not only has the Government lost all its credibility, but also an opportunity to mediate with the “gravest internal security threat” toIndia. And if the CPI (Maoist) Central Committee’s latest press release after Kishanji’s encounter is anything to go by, the Naxalites consider Jairam Ramesh a collaborator of the Home Minister’s agenda too.

In such a climate of hostility, the PMRDF is nothing short of a suicide-mission. It’s alright to say that the working professionals and graduates who’ll be employed in these conflict-zones have squat to do with the decades of dispossession suffered by the tribals and are coming in as Good Samaritans, and thus we must expect, nay, demand immunity for them from the violence prevalent in the LWE affected areas. In the event that they’re caught in the cross-fire between the State and the Naxalites, it would be arrogant to support the Government’s plan for on an all-out offensive on the Naxalites. (Just a thought – Can the Indian State be so callous that the PMRDF has been engineered in a fashion to sway public opinion in the government’s favour in the event of guerilla attacks?)

This is war. You don’t start re-building the battleground right in the middle of the war. I hope that the 180 individuals who’ll be selected for the Fellowship know what they’re getting into. I personally love this idea of committing two years of your life in an exercise of nation building the way Gandhi saw village-level independence and be handsomely paid for it too; when was the last time fresh graduates felt so valued in a government job then a private one? But I don’t see myself going there anytime soon. As long as this ‘threat’ persists, which even Jairam Ramesh identifies as a socio-economic crisis emerging out of government apathy for decades, it is not only dangerous, but also insensitive to tread on this path considering the degree of distrust between the tribal villagers and the government. Never the less, I would be the happiest person if proven wrong, to see the civil administration successfully ‘winning hearts and minds’ of our tribal communities. Until then, if you’re heroic enough to participate in the PMRDF, you might as well buy yourself some Life Insurance. It’s just good sense.

My two cents: Chidambaram and Ganpathy really need to sit down over a bowl of ant chutney and have a heart-to-heart.

(The descriptions Naxal and Maoist are used inter-changeably in the article. The Maoist struggle as we know it today, has its origins in 1960s Naxalbari, a small village in Darjeeling, Paschimbanga.)