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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2966

Arundhati Roy denounces Indian democracy

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

Ms Arundhati Roy is an unhappy citizen. There is so much in this world that she finds loathsome. She cannot stand the US president, George W. Bush, she condemns the occupation of Iraq, she sees evil designs behind the clarion calls for globalisation and liberalisation coming from the wicked West as it has not helped the impoverished in the Third World. Her catalogue of bad things in India is so large that it is actually difficult to say if she finds anything right here. Indians outside the country too seem to annoy her as she has observed that ‘the so-called expatriate Indians are running a campaign against me’.

Only some weeks ago she was fuming at the callousness and worse shown by the government towards the people affected by the Narmada dam scheme. She had even defied the highest court of the land to speak for the victims of the Narmada scheme and had spent a day in prison when the Supreme Court found her guilty of contempt of court. Her latest object of wrath is the ‘so-called democracy’ in India. ‘The concept of Indian democracy is the biggest publicity scam of this century. Holding elections every five years does not necessarily mean that our country enjoys a democracy,’ she declared at a public meeting.

Ironically, she was berating Indian democracy from an extremist platform; the occasion was a protest against the arrest of the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Deepankar Bhattacharya, who has been arrested along with four other on charges that include attempt to murder. It will strike some as odd that she was complaining about a ‘phoney’ democracy at a gathering of people who do not pretend to believe in any democratic values such as freedom to disagree.

After her first novel got her the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997, Ms Roy did not use her considerable writing talents to churn out more works of fiction. Or, maybe, she did. She has spoken and written copiously on social and political issues by judiciously mixing facts with fiction. For instance, she told a TV audience in the US that the venue of the public speech George Bush gave in India during his visit in March this year was the Delhi Zoo and, hence, the audience naturally consisted of ‘caged animals’ and ‘caged CEOs’. And who did he meet when he flew into Hyderabad, the latest IT city of India? According to Ms Roy, a buffalo!

As for the official hosts of Bush in India, Ms Roy’s verdict is that the Indian leaders stooped to their ‘servile’ best in doing a ‘death dance’ of embracing the US president. Even the Indian media, particularly one English language newspaper with multi-editions!

Ms Roy’s colourful descriptions have not exactly set the Yamuna on fire. One can suspect that the reason is that instead of offending the intended persons, her observations evoked mirth. That may be befitting because Ms Roy herself found Bush to be an object of ridicule but her overwhelming sense of revolt against the man and his policies prevented her from satirising his visit.

It will be pointless to question Ms Roy’s views on a democracy, even the ‘sham’ one. But it does appear that the yardstick with which she and others like her would like to judge issues like democracy are too harsh and unrealistic. Take her stand on hydro-electric power stations and dams. Opposing a dam is fine, as the governments indeed do not really care much for the persons affected by the project while every effort is made to derive mileage from the project. But projects like a dam cannot be stopped nor, for that matter, will a government mould its domestic and foreign policies to suit the likes of certain ‘idealists’.

It will also appear that there are times when persons like Ms Roy are caught in their own rhetoric. A TV interviewer in America asked her if India should have nuclear weapons. Being a known critic of nuclear arms, she was naturally against India going nuclear. But in her reply she said that not only India but none of the nuclear haves, including the US and Israel, should have the nuclear arsenal.

The interviewer was peeved because obviously his intention was to pin her down to the specific question on India probably to support his line against India’s nuclear programme. Each time the interviewer asked her the question Ms Roy repeated her answer with the mention of the US and other nuclear haves. The interview was never aired and the American interviewer probably wondered why Ms Roy was not categorical in denouncing the Indian nuclear programme outside of the other nuclear programmes.

To be honest, Ms Roy is not the first well-known personality to express extreme views on a range of policies and persons. More and more public figures are coming out in the open to take extreme positions on almost every issue that confront society. The search for the middle path is hardly in reckoning. People in the news (other than politicians) hitherto considered apolitical are increasingly coming before the public to air their views that, they know, will generate controversy, if not heat.

The recent agitation against OBC quota in professional institutions like medical colleges, IIMs and IITs sparked off a partisan agitation enthusiastically participated by many upper caste public figures. The merits of the quota announcement by the government were hardly debated. The critics received wide publicity and it appeared that there were no supporters of the OBC quota policy, which is not true.

Film stars are a class by themselves. No one can grudge them taking a stand on any issue. Trouble arises when they appear to be more keen to steal the limelight rather than express any genuine heartfelt opinion. One moment we can have a hero (or a heroine) endorsing multi-national products for a hefty fee and next you see him or her transformed as a crusader for indigenous causes—to be seen as a politically correct person?

Contradictory public postures of film stars can sometime lead to violence. But then who suffers? Not the star, it is the producer or other connected with the trade as Amir Khan starrer Fanna demonstrated. In the case of Ms Roy’s campaigns, the effect, unfortunately, seems to be the opposite of what she intended. Her opposition to the Narmada dam seems to have given another boost to Narendra Modi in Gujarat. That is the last thing she would have wished.

- Syndicate Features -

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