Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Arundhati Roy on India and Totalitarianism

Award winning author and activist Arundhati Roy needs no introduction. She was interviewed in the Democracy Now in April 9, 2014 on the subject of "Is India on a Totalitarian Path?". Parts of her interview is posted below:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with the world-renowned author Arundhati Roy. Voting has just begun in India in the largest election the world has ever seen. About 815 million Indians are eligible to vote over the next five weeks. The number of eligible voters in India is larger than the total population of the United States and European Union combined. Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. Her latest book is called Capitalism: A Love Story [sic]. Democracy Now!'s — Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I talked to Arundhati Roy about the changes in India she describes in her latest book and the implications for the elections.
ARUNDHATI ROY: So, I’m talking about how, when you have this kind of control over all business, over the media, over its essential infrastructure, electricity generation, information, everything, then you just field your, you know, pet politicians. And right now, for example, what’s happening in India is that one of the reasons that is being attributed to the slowdown of the economy is the fact that there is a tremendous resistance to all of this from the people on the ground, from the people who are being displaced, from the—and in the forests, it’s the Maoist guerrillas; in the villages, it’s all kinds of people’s movements—all of whom are of course being called Maoist. And now, there is a—you see, these economic policies—these new economic policies cannot be implemented unless—except with state—with coercive state violence. So you have a situation where the forests are full of paramilitary just burning villages, you know, pushing people out of their homes, trying to clear the land for mining companies to whom the government has signed, you know, hundreds of memorandums of understanding. Outside the forests, too, this is happening. So there is a kind of war which, of course, always existed in India. There hasn’t been a year when the Indian army hasn’t been deployed against its own people. I mean, I’ll talk about that later—
AMY GOODMAN: Since when?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Since independence, since 1947, you know? But now the plan is to deploy them. Now it’s the paramilitary. But this new election is going to be who is the person that the corporates choose, who is not going to blink about putting the Indian—about deploying the Indian army against the poorest people in this country, you know, and pushing them out to give over those lands, those rivers, those mountains, to the major mining corporations. So this is what we are being prepared for now—the air force, the army, going in into the heart of India now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Before we go to the elections, could you—one of the operations, the military operations, you talk about is Operation Green Hunt.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain what that is, when it started, and who it targets?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, Operation Green Hunt, basically—you know, in 2004, the current government signed a series of memorandums of understanding with a number of mining corporations and infrastructure development companies to build dams, to do mining, to build roads, to move India into the space where, as the home minister at the time said, he wanted 75 percent of India’s population to live in cities, which is, you know, moving—social engineering, really, moving 500 million people or so out of their homes. And so, then they came up against this very, very militant resistance from the ground. As I said, in the forests, there were armed Maoist guerrillas; outside the forest, there are militant, you know, some call themselves Gandhians, all kinds. There’s a whole diversity of resistance but, although strategically they had different ways of dealing with it, were all fighting the same thing. So then, in the state of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, which are where there are huge indigenous populations—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In central India.
ARUNDHATI ROY: In central India—the first thing the government did was to—very similar to what happened in places like Peru and Colombia, you know, they started to arm a section of the indigenous population and create a vigilante army. It was called the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. The Salwa Judum, along with local paramilitary, went in and started decimating villages, like they basically chased some 300,000 people out of the forests, and some 600 villages were emptied. And then the people began to fight back. And really, this whole Salwa Judum experiment failed, at which point they announced Operation Green Hunt, where there was this official declaration of war.
And there was so much propaganda in the media. As I explain to you now, the media is owned by the corporations who have vested interests. So there was this—you know, the prime minister came out and said, "They are the greatest internal security threat." And, you know, there was this kind of conflation between the Maoists with their ski caps and, you know, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and all these people who are threatening the idea of India.
What the government wasn’t prepared for was the fightback, not just from the people in the forest, but even from a range of activists, a range of people who were outraged by this. And, you know, they passed these laws which meant that anybody could be called a Maoist and, you know, a threat to security. And thousands—even today, there are thousands of people in jail under sedition, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and so on. And—but that was Operation Green Hunt. But that, too, ran aground, because it’s very difficult terrain and—you know, so now the idea is to deploy the army. And now the corporations feel that this past government hadn’t—didn’t have the nerve to send out the army, that it blinked. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: This is the Congress party.
ARUNDHATI ROY: The Congress party and its allies. So now all the big corporations are backing the chief—the three-times chief minister of the state of Gujarat, the western state of Gujarat, who has proved his mettle, you know, by being an extremely hard and cold-blooded chief minister, who is now—I mean, he is, of course, best known for having presided over a pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about who Modi is—I mean, this moves us into the election of April; it’s going to be the largest election in the world—who the contenders are, who this man is who could well become the head of India, who the United States has not granted a visa to in years because of what you’re describing.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, who is Narendra Modi? I think he’s, you know, changing his—changing his idea of who he himself is, you know, because he started out as a kind of activist in this self-proclaimed fascist organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the RSS, which was founded in 1925, who the heroes of the RSS were Mussolini and Hitler. Even today, you know, their—the bible of the RSS was written by a man called Golwalkar, you know, who says the Muslims of India are like the Jews of Germany. And so, they have a very clear idea of India as a Hindu nation, very much like the Hindu version of Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Where, you’re saying, the Muslims should be eradicated.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Where they should be either made to live as, I think, second-class citizens and—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Or they should move to Pakistan.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, or they should move to Pakistan. Or if they don’t behave themselves, they should just be killed, you know? So, this is a very old—you know, Modi didn’t invent it. But he was—he and even the former BJP prime minister, Vajpayee, the former home minister, Advani—all of these are members of the RSS. The RSS is an organization which has 40,000 or 50,000 units across India, extremely—I mean, they were at one point banned because a former member of the RSS killed Gandhi. But now—you know, now they are of course not a banned organization, and they work—
AMY GOODMAN: Killed Mahatma Gandhi.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, assassinated him. But that—but, so, Modi started out as a worker for the RSS. He, of course, came into great prominence in 2002, when he was already the chief minister of Gujarat but had been losing local municipal elections. And this was at the time when the BJP had run this big campaign in—they had demolished the Babri Masjid, this old 14th century mosque, in 1992. But they were now saying, "We want to build a big Hindu temple in that place." And a group of pilgrims who were returning from the site where this temple was supposed to be built, the train in which they were traveling, the compartment was set on fire, and 58 Hindu pilgrims were burned. Nobody knows, even today, who set that compartment on fire and how it happened. But, of course, it was immediately, you know, blamed on Muslims. And then there followed an unbelievable pogrom in Gujarat, where more than a thousand people were lynched, were burned alive. Women were raped. Their abdomens were slit open. Their fetuses were taken out and so on. And not only that—
AMY GOODMAN: These were Muslims.
ARUNDHATI ROY: These were Muslims, by these Hindu mobs. And it became very clear that they had lists, they had support. The police were, you know, on side of the mobs. And, you know, 100,000 Muslims were driven from their homes. And this happened in 2002, this was 12 years ago. And subsequently, they have been—you know, the killers themselves have come on TV and boasted about their killing, come on—in sting operations. But the more they boasted, the more it became—I mean, for people who thought other people would be outraged, in fact it worked as election propaganda for Modi.
And even now, though he took off his sort of saffron turban and his red tikka and then put on a sharp suit and became the development chief minister, and yet, you know, when—recently, when he was interviewed by Reuters and asked whether he regretted what happened in 2002, he more or less said, "You know, I mean, even if I were driving a car and I drove over a puppy, I would feel bad," you know? But he very expressly has refused to take any responsibility or regret what happened.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But that’s one of the extraordinary things that you describe in the book, is that following liberalization and the growth of this enormous middle class, 300 million, there was a simultaneous shift, gradual shift, to a more right-wing, exclusive, intolerant conception of India as a Hindu state. So, simultaneously, this class embraces neoliberalism, the neoliberalism in India, and also a more conservative Hindu ideology. So can you explain how those two go together, and how in fact, along with what you said now about Modi, how that might play out in this election?
ARUNDHATI ROY: You know, whenever I speak in India, I say that in the late '80s what the government did was they opened two locks. One was the lock of the free—of the market. The Indian market was not a free market, not an open market; it was a regulated market. They opened the lock of the markets. And they opened the lock of the Babri Masjid, which for years had been a disputed site, you know, and they opened it. And both those locks—the opening of both those locks eventually led to two kinds of totalitarianisms. One—and they both led to two kinds of manufactured terrorisms. You know, so the lock of the open market led to what are now being described as the Maoist terrorist, which includes all of us, you know, all of us. Anybody who's speaking against this kind of economic totalitarianism is a Maoist, whether you are a Maoist or not. And the other, you know, the Islamist terrorist. So, what happens is that both the Congress party and the BJP has different prioritizations for which terrorist is on the top of the list, you know? But what happens is that whoever wins the elections, they always have an excuse to continue to militarize.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So the two main parties who are contesting this election are Congress, which is the ruling party now, and the BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Narendra Modi is the head. And you’ve said that the only difference between them is that one does by day what the other does by night, so as far as these policies are concerned, you can see no difference, irrespective of who wins.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, well, you know, when it comes down to the wire, I agree with what I’ve said. And yet, you know, there is something to be said for hypocrisy, you know, for doing things by night, because there’s a little bit of tentativeness there; there isn’t this sureness of, you know, "We want the Hindu nation, and we want the rule of the corporations," and so on. But, yes, I mean, what happens is that everybody knows. It’s like whoever is in power gets 60 percent of the cut, and whoever is not in power gets 40 percent. That’s how the corporates work. You know, they have enough money to pay the government and the opposition. And all these institutions of democracy have been hollowed out, and their shells have been placed back, and we continue this sort of charade in some ways.

You can read the full interview by clicking here.

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