Why an Arundhati Roy must not be condemned
educed to bare essentials, the difference between a self-aggrandizing Arundhati Roy and a significant number of Indians dismayed at the level of corruption and an arrogant front by public officials including the Prime Minister is that of articulation. The former’s articulation, guided by the primary purpose of choosing a topic for activism and making news hoping to provoke the latent aggression among her opponents, is sensational. This serves a dual purpose i) she can claim instant victimhood and, if her liberties are suppressed, be a martyr; and ii) give her an opportunity to point out the behavior of her opponents to pseudo-liberals in India and the West that love to keep portraying the entire Indian nation as destitute and barbaric. In doing so, her consistent underlying theme is to defeat the idea and ideals of Bharat and its democracy. A guile leapfrog observed in her writings, particularly the collection of articles titled Listening to Grasshoppers, from attractive but terribly skewed headlines to concluding, in typical myopic tendency, that Bharat is a “banana republic” is often understood by those charmed by her as clarity of thought and expression. As Ramchandra Guha, a writer and a historian points out, “the excess of emotion and indignation [in her prose] drowns out the facts” which, to me, is one opportunity lost for a constructive appraisal of systemic flaws in our nation. It either propels the myopic to join her in reciting deliciously vilifying conclusions or provokes the hot-headed and needlessly insecure patriot.
Regardless, an Arundhati Roy and its ilk must not be condemned or, at the very least, neglected for two distinct reasons:
(a) the issues she picks on at the breakfast table are critical issues that face a resurging Bharat and the substance of those issues must be paid immediate heed to without necessarily reacting to the motives behind it or the manner of expression; and
(b) her denouncement of both the idea of Bharat and the guiding principle of democracy and her implicit support for nihilism must serve as an inspiration to Indians particularly the youth to ensure that it is only the very idea and ideals of Bharat that can remedy the systemic wrongs and State excesses within the nation.
It must be known that she is not the only one rejecting the idea and ideal of Bharat. Several Indians and sections of the international community, whether unknowingly or otherwise, share this abnegation in different intensities and different ways. We must work towards proving right the basic truth that only the boon of democracy and liberty can truly engulf its bane.That neither destruction of the idea of India nor violent extremism is needed for a systematic reform in our systems and governance, and that only a true evolutionary process within the contours of our Constitution and guiding principles of our Founding Fathers can provide us the country we aspire for. To her credit, despite the fact that she is, for example, “on the side of” Maoists wishing to overthrow the Indian State or separatists in Kashmir wanting azadi, she did question, though only recently, the merits of the alternative by asking her ‘comrades’ in both struggles whether they will truly uphold the basic humanitarian values should they get what they want. Will separatists who happen to rule an azad Kashmir in the event of secession truly uphold equal rights of minorities; will they recall Kashmiri pandits back into their land and provide safety? If the obvious answer seems to us countrymen to be in the negative, we have an obligation to be active stakeholders in bridging the lacunae between the ideals of Bharat and its implementation to prove, not by force but by adherence to highest standards of humanity that Bharat has been the epitome of, that hope lies in Bharat only. No system other than a vibrant democracy gives the entire nation a right to insist that within the framework of our Guiding Document. It is not enough to stop at the point of believing, however correctly, that the alternatives likely to be offered by Maoists or separatists of Kashmir will kill liberties and result in bloodshed. In fact, that belief should not even be predominant. The tragic consequences of an alternative must not be the preeminent basis of implicitly asserting the usefulness of the primary option. We must instead concentrate on actively shaping the Bharat we want, on improving her wheels of democracy, the Bharat that shall be the best hope for those who today are Maoists and separatists as well as for us. Bharat is the only large democracy that also has a communist party not too long ago, a part of the Executive in mainstream politics. Her eligibility and ability to have the highest standards of democracy and truly uphold basic liberties is, indeed, indisputable.
If we take examples of the corrupted Hindutva movements that have tended to patronize modern India in a manner that runs foul of the basic essence of Hinduism or the recent 2G spectrum scam, it is difficult to completely disagree with Arundhati’s demand for changing our Constitution’s preamble to reflect the fact that “India is a corporate-friendly Hindu State”. The conclusion is sensational and her motives may well be questionable, but a hardcore patriot like Arun Shourie a BJP MP and previously a Disinvestment Minister who has closely dealt with Hindutva ideology and corporates draws our attention to the same points, of course without the glib headline and with a very precise, insightful and detailed rendition of facts. We must consider her headlines as another attempt by someone to draw our attention to remedying these flaws rather than an attack on our country. She is a sentinel, even though prejudiced and cynical. Bharat, with its tremendously rich history and profundity of intellect existing since thousands of years, is not so weak that its ideals can be atrophied by mere verbal attacks and support among sections of the international media. As our country evolves on its path into the modern world and occupies an ever important place in international relations, it is only public activism, demand for accountability or for reform in systems and processes and the efficacy of democracy rather than separatist demands or guns, stones and bombs that can ensure India’s progress on the right path. Human nature has certain basic universal characteristics that gain preeminence based on the atmosphere the systems and processes, or the lack of it around them. Watertight systems and a thorough process of checks and balances can guide human nature to a constructive path. Guns and separatism may respectively kill or avoid the instruments of a system, but not the vulnerabilities of human nature nor the flaws in systems.
Condemning an Arundhati is neither useful nor necessary. Her points, both factually and fictionally driven, must serve as a warning of what may happen if we as a nation do not continue to insist on creation of effective systems and standards of accountability. Her allegiances to her ‘comrades’, whatever may be the motive, must serve as a warning to us that there does exist cause, perhaps cynical, for such dismay among a sizeable number of our brethren. Attraction to destructive corrupt ideologies like Maoism or separatism and short-cut conclusions celebrated in a movie like Rang De Basanti seem attractive to some of them. This dismay must be examined in greater detail to preserve and protect the fabric of Bharat. Because, these people also constitute a portion of the wheel upon which stability and peace lay.
As for Arundhati’s excessively one-sided representation of areas she claims to be an expert on, it must be responded by words alone. The best answer to an erroneous book is a book.
*Kartikeya Tanna is an attorney by profession and is a partner at Tanna Associates, a law firm in the State of Gujarat. Kartikeya is actively involved in current affairs around the world and has a special interest in politics. He has previously written articles on various issues in finance and economics for various publications.
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