Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Why Arundhati Roy should, and should not be taken seriously

Arundhanthi Roy lashes out at practically everything, from Enron to "Shiekh" Bush and Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambram. While one admires her for taking the bull by the horn on most issues, she tends to become sterotyped and shrill in her criticism. She does make a few good points though:
  • Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P.Chidambaram have fused into the Holy Trinity of neo-liberalism.Their vision of the New India has been fashioned at the altar of the world’s cathedrals: Oxford, Harvard Business School, the World Bank and the imf....Right now, for example, there’s a lot in the news about the scandalous Enron contract being "re-negotiated" for the third time—the contract that resulted in MSEB having to pay Enron millions of dollars not to produce electricity. The renegotiation is all very secret (like the initial Enron negotiation).
  • (On Manmohan Singh's speech at Oxford) The only people who might have a valid reason to view the British Empire with less anger than the rest of us are Dalits. Since to the white man all of us were just natives, Dalits were not especially singled out for the bestial treatment meted out to them by caste Hindus.But somehow, I can’t imagine Manmohan Singh bringing a Dalit perspective to colonialism while receiving an honorary PhD in Oxford.
  • Power concedes nothing unless it is forced to. No one knew that better than Ambedkar. It was at the centre of his brilliant demolition of Gandhi’s argument in ‘Annihilation of Caste’. Right now, the Dalits have no leverage. Today, the Dalit movement is fractured and scattered. We need a strong Dalit movement
  • (On Kashmir) And so India stands morally isolated—it has completely lost the confidence of ordinary people.According to the Indian army, there are never at any time more than 3,000-4,000 militants operating in the Valley. But there are between 5,00,000-8,00,000 Indian soldiers there.An armed soldier for every 10-15 people. By way of comparison, there are 1,60,000 US soldiers in Iraq.Clearly, the Indian army is not in Kashmir to control militants, it is there only to control the Kashmiri people.
It is, however, in the final parting comment that she seems to really reveal the dark side of her reasoning:
Any positive thoughts to end this dark conversation?
Let me share a sweet little thing. I saw a news report about two Adivasi girls getting married to each other. And the whole village was saying: if that’s what they want, it’s fine. They had this ceremony, with all the rituals and customs, and they let them get married. That’s a moment of magic. It reveals their level of modernity, of their sophistication.Of their beauty.
Those familiar with Lenin's criticism of the Russian Narodniks can clearly see the connection here. While many of her observations come close to the Left position, and need to be taken seriously, the Narodnik overtones in her rhetoric cautions us on where she should not be taken seriously.

There is clearly a Narodnik admiration of the "beauty", "modernity" and "sophistication" of "the people" in her last comment.

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