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Getting Indian Democracy Right: Rohini Hensman

April 10, 2010

Guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN

‘Far away, in that other fake democracy called India’: so said Arundhati Roy in a passing reference to India when she began her talk at the finale of the Left Forum 2010 in New York in the middle of March. Fake democracy? Yet in the same month her long essay ‘Walking With the Comrades,’ supporting the struggle of the CPI (Maoist) in the tribal areas, was published by a mainstream, corporate-controlled Indian magazine, Outlook. How would that be possible if India were just a ‘fake’ democracy? By way of a comparison, across the border in Sri Lanka, the March issue of Himal Southasian was seized by customs on account of an article of mine, despite the fact that I have always been sharply critical of the insurgencies of the LTTE and JVP, and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as sympathetic to terrorism or violence. Earlier editions of Himal with articles by writers critical of both the government and the LTTE have suffered the same fate. My articles have been turned down by one newspaper after another in Sri Lanka, and I do not blame their editors and owners: so many journalists, editors and owners who have been critical of the regime in power have been jailed, killed or disappeared, even if they, too, had been critical of the LTTE.

Indeed, Arundhati herself had mentioned the plight of journalists in Sri Lanka in an article she wrote around a year ago, warning that ‘genocide waits to happen’. She wrote eloquently about the civilians trapped in the war zone being bombed and shelled indiscriminately by government forces, but failed to mention that the LTTE was holding these same civilians hostage and shooting them if they tried to escape, using them as human shields from behind which they fired at government forces, forcing civilians to build bunds under enemy fire, putting guns into the hands of children and sending them to the front line. ‘Genocide’ has a precise legal meaning that revolves crucially around intent (Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the ICC states, ‘For the purpose of this Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’, etc.), and it was not on the agenda in Sri Lanka. What both sides were perpetrating were heinous war crimes, and if those of us who were anguished about that situation had been able to prevail on both sides to stop committing those crimes, thousands of civilian lives could have been saved. But making exaggerated and one-sided claims did not help.

Similarly, if India is already a ‘fake democracy’, what would we call it if Arundhati and the editors and owners of Outlook were arrested and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for twenty years for publishing that article? No one can seriously deny that India’s democracy is terribly flawed. Not only are existing legal and constitutional rights of citizens constantly violated, but draconian laws like AFSPA, against which Irom Sharmila has waged a heroic ten-year fast, actually provide legal sanction for such crimes. They are cancerous tumours on the body politic, and unless and until they are excised, it is impossible to talk of a healthy democracy. And yet, characterising India’s democracy as ‘fake’ belittles the efforts of millions of grassroots activists using constitutional means to struggle for the rights of women, children, workers, dalits, adivasis and minority communities, to fight for justice without killing or wounding anyone. It demeans the efforts of Arundhati’s former comrades in the NBA. And it misunderstands democracy as a gift of the ruling class, whereas it can only be won by unremitting struggle.

If writing off Indian democracy as fake is intended to legitimise armed struggle against the state, that has dangerous potential to strengthen authoritarianism. Take the tactic of enforcing election boycotts by armed movements. There is no obligation to vote, so people who do not think it is worth supporting any candidate have the option of not voting, or spoiling their ballot papers if they want to register a stronger protest. But enforcing a boycott with threats of violence takes away yet one more small liberty, and results in a setback for any struggle for rights. It can also result in counter-finality for the agent enforcing the boycott. In the 2005 presidential election in Sri Lanka, the LTTE leadership enforced an election boycott in the areas they controlled, leading to the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa who then proceeded to wipe them out. Between 1994 and 2005, a war-weary Sri Lankan population under a relatively democratic government had been willing to concede the democratic rights and freedoms demanded by Tamils, but the LTTE leadership held out for a separate totalitarian Tamil state. Along with the crimes against Tamil civilians mentioned above and many others, it was their own acts which led to their destruction.

Enforcing bandhs by threatening violence is another tactic that takes away the rights of working people rather than expanding them. In a report sympathetic to the CPI (Maoist), Gautam Navlakha tells us that the Maoists beheaded CITU trade union leader Thomas Munda of Kulta Iron Works for defying their bandh call. And this is not the only instance of the CPI (Maoist)’s authoritarian methods (see the interview with a former Maoist area commander in Tehelka). Beheading trade unionists and killing dissident tribals is surely not the way to build a genuine as opposed to fake democracy!

In order to justify describing India as a ‘fake democracy’, two things would be required. One is to show that all or most of the thousands of struggles for democratic rights taking place every day and involving lakhs of people (including adivasis) have failed. But this is simply not true. Many battles fail, but many succeed. That is the nature of the struggle for democracy: you win some battles, lose others, learn from your failures and carry on. The other requirement would be to explain what is meant by ‘genuine democracy’. Is it the regime in the areas controlled by the CPI (Maoist), where all mass organisations are dominated by the party and dissidents are eliminated? Or the repressive and profoundly authoritarian regimes that were installed by the revolutions of the 20th century? Can Arundhati point to any ‘genuine democracy’, and if not, what does it mean to call Indian democracy ‘fake’? Again, this exaggerates the failure of democracy in India and fails to tell the other side of the story: the failure of violent revolutions to establish anything better.

The God of Small Things is a brilliant novel that well deserved the Booker Prize, but non-fiction writing demands something different. The fiction writer creates a world in her head, whereas the non-fiction writer has to relate to the world outside her head, and do a considerable amount of background research in order to get it right. In a moment of candour, during an interview in 2007, Arundhati admitted that she finds this irksome: “I feel very imprisoned by facts, by having to get it right,’ she said. But unless socialists are willing to ‘look reality in the face’, that is, take ‘facts’ more seriously, they will be building a movement founded on myths.

52 Comments leave one →
  1. yogesh permalink
    April 10, 2010 12:46 PM

    very sensitive, logical and responsible critique of Arundhati. Maoist challenge is sabotaging non-violent democratic struggles all over involving thousands of dedicated workers. life and reality are sterner than romantic legitimisation of armed struggles which give birth to elitist morally self-righteous mindsets and structures.

  2. johng permalink
    April 10, 2010 9:15 PM

    At the global level there have been many discussions about the way in which neo-liberalism has hollowed out democratic institutions and structures. It is certainly true that such analyses can produce a rhetoric that is unhelpfully sweeping in writing off existing democratic structures and resources in particular countries and contexts.

    Its also true however that certain trends associated with this hollowing out are very real. When Roy speaks of the increasing role of money power and the like in elections she is pointing to both a more global trend and to more specific features of the situation in India today.

    In India as elsewhere these trends have produced logjams and strategic problems for activists in a broad variety of movements and campaigns (they’ve fueled for instance arguments about the limitations of politics versus movements, as well as counter-arguments about the limitations of non-political civil society activism).

    The late Balagopal in a piece reproduced on this site spoke of the resulting debates (unfortunately I have a terrible internet connection at the moment so can’t search and find it!) and pointed to false diochotomies between overly legalistic methods of organising and a belief that violence was somehow more ‘efficiant': concluding that in fact most kinds of activism have in fact failed to do much to do much to change the direction of the inequitous policies associated with the present direction of governance.

    “No short cuts” was his conclusion. But I do find the tendency not to respond to the specific points raised by Arundhati in the article about the limitations of existing movements (limitations which are the cause of much debate amongst those involved in any case), or the specific issues involved (MOU’s etc) and what ought to be done about them, but rather to focus entirely on whether or not Arundhati is supporting the Maoists, move us away from the kind of discussion about what a more thought out response would look like.

    There is a tendency to present the Maoists as a movement wholly removed from the traditions of radical thought as they actually exist, something which I’ve found not to be the case whenever I’ve interacted with different sections of the Indian left, and to neglect the degree to which there is a crisis for very large scale movements (far larger then the Maoists could command) which nevertheless found themselves at a serious impasse.

    Saying no to violence as a strategy may well be an important task. But it is surely hamstrung if the whole discussion skirts the question of what such a likely strategy would look like. Making Roy’s political weaknesses the central focus of discussion without acknowledging some of the reasons many have adopted broadly similar perspectives in the current situation seems to me unhelpful.

  3. A.Menon permalink
    April 10, 2010 11:43 PM

    Arundhati Roy has a wonderful way with the English language but, as succinctly pointed out by Rohini Hensmen, exaggeration has never helped any cause. As a person who has been involved with women’s rights and equity for decades, I fear that Arundhati Roy is projecting the same negativity as the militant feminists of yore.
    True the establishment is reaping what it sowed but the real victims are the ordinary people who are dying in the action of a government now waking up to the monster it once unleashed and is now trying to control. A great deal of the blame rests with the politicians but an alert citizenry ought to strengthen the hands of those groups which are committed to a non-violent struggle to bring about change. Violence never wins.

  4. joy permalink
    April 11, 2010 3:44 AM

    ma’m, with all due respect, your understanding of how the indian democracy functions seems superficial. the democratic rights that you can exercise in urban areas is not necessarily available to the people in rural areas and forest lands. otherwise why would policeman walk into houses, trample property, rape women and walk away free, without any sort of punishment. would this have happened in your home or my home in the cities ? when justice is asked, more brutalities follow. for decades, people have been evicted from their lands in the name of industrialization. does democracy work for them ? whether violent resistances should follow or not is a separate question. the first thing is to recognize is that indeed democracy is fake for millions of people across the country. you and me can sit and debate for days without agreeing, but for the people out there it is a question of survival with dignity. have we, as “conscious” citizens in a functioning democracy been able to ensure that the rights and freedoms that we enjoy also reach out to people in the hinterland ?

    • Rohini permalink
      April 11, 2010 6:52 PM

      I agree with you, Joy, that for the adivasis ‘it is a question of survival with dignity’. What I’m saying is that the vast majority of adivasis have chosen to fight for survival with dignity through mass organisations in legal and constitutional ways, not through armed struggle.

  5. george john permalink
    April 11, 2010 7:40 AM

    For me it seems the problem of Arundhati Roy is of not attempting another novel.What she tries is putting all the fiction she got in her head into nonfictional milieu which is greatly detrimental to the democracies where she makes public her romantic pursuits in the guise of non fiction than what the Maoists do in the forests.Or else the world would have got a bigger book in an Indian setting than The God of Small Things that was told on Keralam…

  6. debabrata banerjee permalink
    April 11, 2010 11:10 AM

    Bravo, Rohini! i had read your the earlier, historical presentation of left politics in Sri Lanka covering over half a century, starting in the 40’s upto the present and could well imagine sparkling in the most crystal, emerald glades in Sri Lanka. Here the argument too is well on the way to a similar level of clarity; great rock n roll !

  7. vrijendra permalink
    April 11, 2010 12:04 PM

    I think Rohini’s basic argument that Indian democracy however flawed and fragile is not a fake democracy needs to be taken seriously. Even if this flawed democracy works only in urban areas – as some have suggested – well urban India is also real India and not just an elite enclave where only discussions take place. And by the way, discussion, debate and dissent wherever they take place in the country are a part of the flawed democracy.

    People who are convinced India is a fake democracy should look around many struggles around us to realise how hallowed the term sounds. Look at the inspiring – and disturbing – stories around the RTI Act or NREGA. Sure, there are deep inequalities and corruption but I do not know any system in a third world country which in practice which is not deeply flawed. And if any one thinks that Maoists in power will respect democracy, dissent and debate she needs to closely observe how they operate in many other groups and organisations. The fact is: all democracies are necessarily flawed and it is a precious political gift. Let us not completely negate this.

    This demcoracy of course has no meaning in dantewada. In Dantewada, it is really a civil war imposed on the people by the corporatised state and now the rambo chidambaram. It is a very serious situation. Looks like the tribals there have no option but to support the armed Maoists to survive. But to extrapolate Dantewada to the entire Indian state and country I think is to misread the reality that is India and reduce it to a monolith that it is not.

  8. Yojimbo permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:11 PM

    While people may revel in the belittlement of Arundhati Roy in a myriad of ways, I consider it is a response from a lay person (who can write!) to the atrocities that happen around and continue. Yes – it may not be tempered by intellectual neutrality but no one can disagree on its honesty. The ‘fake-ness’ of the Indian Democracy is not sensationalist, it is systemic in its examples but not limited to Caste politics, ineffective judicial systems, biased and poor law enforcement and not like the sensational examples used here like Naxals and NBA. Please do not confuse an Indian Govt’s inherent inefficiency as its grand democratic leeways and sit around and critique Arundhati Roy while there thousands of criminals out there in the system…

  9. johng permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:16 PM

    On Arundhati’s status as a fictional writer and claims that she should stay out of politics its fascinating to read this rejoinder to left wing commentry in Liberation which appeared when the book first came out, at a time when there seemed more chance of a productive synergy between new movements and the organised left:

    http://www.angelfire.com/in/SASG/aroy.html

    It is I think entirely false to see her recent trajectory as simply the result of the romantic infatuations of an elitist literary person: the questions raised are ones which emerge from the breaking down of possibilities which once seemed real. Its why personalising these arguments is so unhelpful.

    It ought to be remembered that this line of argument (posh literary type who should stick to fiction) in the face of critiques from the left, is precisely that which was once pursued by the right and more conservative elements on the left. Such arguments are very much two edged swords if deployed by those on the left.

    If its believed that she has crossed some kind of rubicon in her latest article it nevertheless must be a mistake to echo these kinds of argument rather that get engaged with substantive points and, yes, those facts in the article which no-one has questioned. References to ‘romanticism’ and the fact that she once wrote a fictional book don’t make those facts go away.

    • Aditya Nigam permalink*
      April 11, 2010 8:10 PM

      johng: Not everybody commenting here on Kafila represents the same position. You seem to be conflating the comment by George John with what Rohini has said. Rohini does not say that Arundhati should stay out of politics. All she is saying is that a writer’s relationship to facts (articulated by Arundhati Roy in the interview Rohini has referred to) is of a very different order and for someone doing politics that is not enough. Whether one agrees with this position or not, surely you will agree that this is not by any stretch an argument that she should stay out of politics and only write novels.

  10. Subash permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:43 PM

    Roy calls it a fake democracy because democracies are governed by the rule of law which is equal for everyone. In India unfortunately the rule of law does not exist for the very poor and even for the rich for whom it exists, it is twisted every so often due to politics. Prime examples are the actions of CBI which are governed by the political flavour. The poor cannot approach the district officials who still live in ivory towers inherited from the colonial times. These officials are so high handed and snobbish and they are probably trained to act like it as maybe a part of management training. So for a poor villager Indian (which statistically still has great numbers) these officials are next to impossible to approach and when they do give them audience they want them to grovel. So they have to be approached via the local MLA/ MP who has his own urgencies to cater to for the five years he has at hand. Thus we do not get grass roots governance in India.

  11. Rohini permalink
    April 11, 2010 6:47 PM

    @ johng: What ‘specific points raised by Arundhati in the article about the limitations of existing movements’? Has she ever bothered to look at any of the many different kinds of trade union movements in this country? Or at any of the existing tribal mass movements for that matter? Does she even refer to the successful mass movements against SEZs? She does not, because she couldn’t be less interested in them.

    Let me help you with the Balagopal quote. He wrote, ‘Quite plainly, dharnas and street plays and hartals and half-an-hour-at-a-time road blocks and street corner speeches and jathas can go on for ever and ever and neither the State nor the Ambanis lose anything. This is what often makes activists cynical and gives them that urge to seek an appointment with the Maoists. When they are so tempted they think the only problem they have had with violence is that it is morally problematic and physically unsafe. It is assumed that it is necessarily more effective. It isn’t, and it has not been.’ (This, by the way, is the complete opposite of the argument Arundhati advanced in her Tehelka interview with Shoma Chaudhary, 26 March 2007, where she concludes that violence is the only effective method of resistance, everything else having failed.) Balagopal goes on to say that mass mobilisation of the people affected by government policies is the only way to stop those policies. The ‘short cuts’ he is referring to are armed actions and PILs when he concludes, ‘There are no short cuts’. And he clearly believed that trade union organising and action are important, because he ran a huge labour law practice.

    You seem to think that Arundhati is the only one raising the issues of MoUs etc., and, like her, ignore the massive struggles organised by adivasi organisations like the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers (NFFPFW). See the agenda of their convention last year at http://delhisolidaritygroup.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/national-convention-national-forum-of-forest-people-and-forest-workers-10-12-june-2009-dehradun/ and contrast it with the doctrines of the CPI (Maoist) as presented by Ganapathy in his interview with Jan Myrdal. The CPI (Maoist) is a merger of two hardline Stalinist parties which wants to carry out a Chinese-style revolution for New Democracy spearheaded by a four-class bloc including national capitalists, whereas the NFFPFW is a forum of mass organisations grappling with the crises of today from the standpoint of indigenous peoples. Arundhati supports the former and ignores the latter. Which comes closer to revolutionary socialism as you define it?

  12. johng permalink
    April 11, 2010 8:11 PM

    Arundhati Roy has to my knowledge not been soley involved in campaigning for Maoists. She has in fact been involved and written about various kinds of mass movements (including ones against the SEZ’s). I am also of course aware that Arundhati is not the only person writing about these things and indeed, that she is not the only political actor in India.

    On Balagopal’s piece and your quotes, I agree entirely with them. The only point being that the debates and logjams he refers to are the context out of which Arundhati Roy’s developing position have emerged. I absolutely agree with your reading of what he said and I am not an advocate of armed struggle or the Maoist path.

    I had an exchange elsewhere on Jairus’s initial peice which might help clarify my own position (this is a debate which is clearly spilling beyond the boundaries of kafila!):

    Jairus in his original post makes the good and entirely correct point that there is no Maoist revolution from the so-called red belt which is likely to lead to any social transformation at the national level. Its also true however that at the level of common sense understandings there is little prospect of the same from the organised working class. And this is a situation which has charecterised politics in India for a very long period.

    For a whole generation this led many to focus on the manifold injustices, oppression and uneven economic development of the society as the central features of what was wrong with their society and to be largely sceptical of more orthodox Marxisms. This meant for many a primary focus on human rights groups of various kinds (not to be confused with a later generation of NGOs) many of which emerged at the time of the repression and destruction of the first and second waves of Naxelism (I don’t think we have an adequate history of these developments).

    Refering to Jesse’s otherwise useful contribution I would say that it is a mistake to charecterise these forms of politics as ‘liberal anti-communism’. Arundhati’s overall politics no doubt have their own history but her positions over the years are not so unusual in relationship to this field (and in my view thats what makes her contributions and direction worthy of discussion).

    Its also useful to be reminded that many of the ‘Naxelite’ groups don’t fit easy stereotypes (Jesse’s discussion of Liberation for example). I would differ with him though on the question of unification. Some of this difference revolves around an understanding of what Naxelism was. I think it involved two related and sometimes contradictory elements. On the one hand there was disillusionment with the dominant Communist tradition which followed a pattern seen elsewhere during the late 1960s, on the other hand due to geography and circumstance this was a disillusionment which flew the Maoist banner. Which of these factors predominated depended on external circumstances to some degree.

    Post-Nandigram there were two kinds of responses from the Maoists. One involved the depiction of the CPI(M) as a form of ‘fascism’ and similar ultraleft nonsense (which unfortunately had a resonance with wider layers of activists recoiling in disgust). Others attempted united front activities with more left wing elements in the CPI(M) including on the trade union front. Liberation was more associated with the latter. I think those on the non-stalinist left would see this as the way to go, including a recognition of the importance of the urban working class in any future re-alignment of the left.

    Whether or not Liberation could go down this path is a moot question of course. But then there is the wider question of a working class lefts relationship to the manifold oppressions and injustices which exist beyond the realm of urban working class politics (although often reproduced inside of them). I don’t believe that the development of capitalism inside India will a) smooth out these contradictions (there is no historical evidence for this whatsoever) or b) lead to the industrialisation of the country clearing the path for class struggle rather then politics involving what I would call relations of oppression but what some on the left persist in calling ‘identity politics’ or ‘false consiousness’. In a country like India the left is stuck with this messy terrain this side of a break with capitalism.

    This brings me back to Gopal’s question about who is taking these issues up. I think when Jairus argues that many of those marginalised and oppressed are also wage labourers of one kind or another he is largely correct. But its also true that that marginalisation and oppression is not reducible to them being wage labourers and therefore in mass collective mobilisations (whether of overground or underground varieties) one will often find that these take the form of unity across political economy catagories (and indeed the entanglement of the Maoists in this feature of politics is one of the things that often leads to a rather large gap between programatic pronouncements and practice). A working class politics which does not see itself as taking up issues related to these forms of marginalisation and oppression will be still borne. Its quite possible that Jairus agrees with me on this. But this is not something that will happen automatically and is something that has to be fought for. Its quite possible that Jairus would agree on this with me as well, but I was a little uneasy with the tone of the contributions in this debate, and it was largely these concerns that prompted this otherwise fierce debate.

  13. johng permalink
    April 11, 2010 9:28 PM

    Aditya, Rohini,

    If I conflated the positions my sincere apologies.

  14. Daniel Taghioff permalink
    April 11, 2010 11:57 PM

    This debate seems to be missing some crucial points:

    1) Indian Democracy is not a static or uniform thing. Ok “Joy” (CR?) has picked out the Urban / Rural divide, but also democracy is being crucially enacted in struggles over land, both in Maoist controlled areas and elsewhere.

    If you have a situation where the divide between urban-modern-rights-holders and rural-impoverished-soon-to-be-pushed-out-of-the-way sections, since these rural sections are the majority in terms of the “demos” then democracy is gradually hollowing out. It is sloppy to talk of Democracy being in a particular state, because a polity never quite arrives anyway, it is characterised by its political motion.

    But at the same time, to ignore the accelleration of the grant of mining leases, to ignore the increases in farmer suicides, in absolute mlanutrition, in displacements of Adivasis and others for development projects, is to ignore the divisive character of highly unequalising processes of rapid capital accumulation.

    This may not have totally hollowed out Indian Democracy (yet, and who draws the line?) but it is a very worrying set of developments.

    2) The people who are affected by displacement, for by mining projects or forest department abuses of local populations via timber contractors are not working class. It is still not clear to me why the locus of change in India has to emerge from working class movements. Clearly the experience of Maoism in Nepal contradicts this? I am not saying that a violent path will work in India, I think it will not prevail, and will have a mixed affect of hollowing out Democracy further by militarisation, as well as forcing concessions from the government which may ultimately strengthen democracy. Nothing seems cut and dried as of yet.

    But what I am saying is that the movements that will bring about change in India will have to reflect the majority conditions in India, the Rural, the malnourished, the Adivasi existing from forest gathering and/ or a tiny small holding etc… The NFFPFW and the CSD have come up on this thread, and there must be ways of thinking these movements that work in relation to the traditions of Marxist discussion.

  15. Khanna permalink
    April 12, 2010 10:34 AM

    I’m not sure I agree with your argument, Ms Hensman.

    If you are refuting the absolutism of the statement, then the argument is merely nitpicking. I admit ‘fake’ is a harsh term, but it definitely draws attention, as is required in this case. Nobody takes absolutisms literally. When you talk of the people who “fight for justice without killing or wounding anyone”, nobody is going to nitpick and make a list of wounded people- and I’m sure there were many who were wounded in these struggles.

    When Ms Roy says Indian democracy is “fake” I think she’s trying to convey that there is a vast majority of the population that have been denied certain rights while the urban upper class and the West seems to believe all is well. She’s merely trying to highlight the point that many people are unaware of the fact that democracy in India is “terribly flawed.”

    You argue that in order to prove India is a fake democracy she must show how all struggles for democratic rights have failed. Again, I’m not sure I agree with you. The fact that people find the need to struggle for their rights (often unsuccessfully) is a sign that a democracy isn’t functioning well in the first place. All the struggles and movements you mentioned are points in support of Ms Roy’s argument. If people have to fight to get basic needs how is it a functioning democracy? Besides, many non-democratic and dictatorial regimes have witnessed peoples movements that were successful in attaining certain rights for the people without changing the regime – successful peoples movements are not sufficient proofs of a functioning democracy .

    At some points it seems your argument is merely about definitions. You agree that Indian democracy is “terribly flawed” and suffers from “cancerous tumours” but is definitely not “fake.” Furthermore, you’d like a definition of a “genuine democracy” from Ms Roy. That way you have her define the black and white, and you can say you’ve picked a shade-of-gray adjective. Definitional refutations merely distract from the point at heart. Exaggerations are merely a product of the audience and context in question. And are often used to get a deeper point across. It would have made sense to refute the deeper points rather than pick on the exaggerated adjectives.

    I disagree with Ms Roy on many different grounds. And would hope you debate those instead.

  16. Dash permalink
    April 12, 2010 12:43 PM

    Yawn. Yet another piece — and many comments — from those who sit in their drawing rooms, ready to intellectualise at the drop of a hat. You have every right to disagree with Ms Roy’s views — but at least she’s out there meeting people, living with them, and drawing conclusions. Unlike those who pontificate from pulpits.

  17. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    April 12, 2010 2:58 PM

    Dash, Aapki taarif? Why do you waste your time reading these pontifications, really? You might do better going to Dantewada, or may be just some where in Delhi or Bombay where you do not have access to computers and internet!

    • vrijendra permalink
      April 13, 2010 7:08 AM

      brilliant response to dash, aditya!

    • Yojimbo permalink
      April 13, 2010 11:15 PM

      Please do tell me the qualifications to input points. The ability of people to dismiss ideas still befuddles me. Both sides guilty.

  18. debabrata banerjee permalink
    April 12, 2010 3:47 PM

    @Khanna, the gist of what you are saying is blatantly anti-democratic. For the last 100 years, Indian history has been through momentous democratic upheavals. One of the major demand of independence struggle was democracy and rights that go along with democratic citizenship. When the democratic fabric was threatened during emergency, that was discarded by a mass democratic movement. There is not single party or a choiceless kind of two party rule in India. Parties come to power on the basis of ballots and vote counts Unlike other countries in the subcontinent India does not face the threat of monarchical reaction or army rule. All the main mass movements have been organized democratically at all levels – be they villages, small towns, desert areas, mountains, big cities, etc. Maoists or naxals have been invisible in these process. Unlike so many countries, democracy has sustained itself in India because of popular participation. If this is not a historical saga of functioning democracy then either you are blind or have no political experience of participating in popular movements at all. Don not delude yourself by thinking that Arundhati Roy or anybody, including the holders of highest public offices have any immunity or privilege in this regard. Besides this is not a forum for conducting school level debates. In a democratic format Ms Roy’s voice or yours are not unequal by virtue of status or position.

    @ Dash, it is not possible to respond to a state of heightened ignorance and the sort of dismissal that you can impute to others about whom you know nothing, not that they would want to know anything from the likes of you.

  19. debabrata banerjee permalink
    April 12, 2010 6:21 PM

    What I have found in almost all the posts from the side in defence of Ms Roy and also many other ambivalent one’s is a peculiar mix of literary flourish , metaphors going hand in hand with empiricism or something akin to social empiricism. There is very little of theorization because whoever wants to pitch arguments at the theoretical level gets branded as middle class elements writing from the comforts of the drawing room as though a drawing room is some prerequisite for writing theoretically. The bias against theory is obvious and Ms Roy’s article in my view is a near perfect example of a mix between social empiricism spiced with metaphors and selective categories of political economy, sociology, semiology and so on.

    When I read someone saying that Indian democracy is a `fake’ , namely counterfeit or is getting `hollowed’ out one would like to learn just what is it that has hollowed it out? Termites? Ageing or what? Is it fake because state policies have intentionally disenfranchised the rural poor and tribals ? Are such areas where the majority population is Dalit outside the framework of electoral democracy because of state policies? In my view, these are just metaphors that are used as alibis to cover up a concrete, solid critique of democracy, which is not possible on the basis of a literary imagination spiced with terms borrowed randomly from political economy, ecology, history and so on.

    What does `pointing to’ the global trend of an `increasing role of money power’ imply, if it is just a manner of saying something that is a self-serving tautology ? Is this some unexpected news that Ms Roy has disclosed before the reading public ? Is the public unaware of the corrupting influences of `money power’ in a democratic framework? Is money power the sole cause of logjams, strategic problems and limitations faced by `civil society activism ?

    Taking up violence – Why is it that violence is invariably contrasted with non-violence – a real binary- whose proponent happens to be Ms Roy? Is the issue of violence exclusive to the political sphere ? Are other types of violence absent ? or irrelevant ? What about everyday violence in workplaces, homes and streets ? Is that exempt from some reified notion of holy violence practised by Maoists politically ? Isn’t that sort of everyday violence the main source of appropriation by various shades of politics ? What makes anyone assume that naxal/maoist violence does not justify its own violence by citing selectively, empirically instances of everyday violence and desire for revenge ? Why is violence always talked in terms of blood, gore, mutilation, killings, explosions, etc., that is in turn counted in terms of settling scores ? What makes anyone think that there cannot be any non-physical, overtly physical violence to structure mass-social fear and psychic confusion ? Is that not used for repressing desires and visions of the liberation kind ? Are maoist exempt from such hegemonic strategy ?

    What is so glaring about the difference between rural and urban poverty ? Is there a real divide between the country and city at the level of poverty and impoverishment levels ? Is it that stark ? Is there no elite domination in rural-tribal areas ? Why are urban areas singled out ?

  20. Pushpendra permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:42 AM

    You may chastise Arundhati for being naive or being ‘barbie doll’ of movements etc, but the woman has shown enough courage to speak against injustices. If by any standard, she has become a celebrity, that’s not her fault. By that standard, even Medha or Sandeep is a celebrity which most of us wouldn’t agree. Then there is a hoarse cry over her language. Her language pains many people including Chidambaram and manmohan. Many of us write her off by saying she is not political enough.

    These become absurd profundities when one engages with someone. By which standard, Arundhati is not political? The problem with most of us is that we tend to identify with the person who articulates our agenda or our politics. This is the biggest irony of politics. We all are cocksure about our cognitive experiences.

    Here most of us are critical of India having flawed democracy. But according to me, India doesn’t have democracy at all. Where do we have democracy? In Gujrat or Maharashtra? Well, 1984, Sikhs were massacred by the champions of democracy. Bhopal saw 20,000 people dead in one night. Anderson, the killer is walking hand in hand with Chidambaram and manmohan, the greatest champions of democracy. You had many democratic movements like NBA and what happened to them? They were lawfully crushed. Does narendra modi practise democracy? You have huge presence of Army in North east and kashmir. Is that democracy? Forget Tehri, U have Hirakud which displaced lakhs of people in 1957 and victims got compensation in 1993 at the rate of 1957. Ah… it all happens in the name of democracy. The fact is that all democratic or non violent mass movements were crushed before the emergence of Maoists. Maoists are not contributing to state’s highhandedness. The state has been like this since the period of Ashoka, the Great who invaded Kalinga in BC and the modern Indian/Oriya state invaded Kalinga Nagar in 2006. Since the time of transfer of power, Indian state has been practising despotism in the name of democracy. If you still believe India being a democratic country, that’s your conviction. But in all practical terms, it has been an undemocratic state.

    As a response to undemocratic nature of the state, people have always taken up arms and killed enemies. In that process they were defeated as well. Nobody wants to take up arms. It becomes the last resort. CPI was the first party to initiate Armed struggle against the state. Naxalites only gave a new lease of life to it and then Maoists filled in it with organisational skills and expanded it. Imagine a thunderstorm of 70s has now pervaded in so many districts. I will limit it to less than 40 since I don’t believe in the propaganda of the state like moderately or extremely affected. Well, this is the tactics of Guirilla warfare. It can also happen in urban areas with Trotskyite notion of urban gurilla warfare. Well, even that will be a violent armed movement. And according to Marx, bourgeois never leaves the power peacefully. Well, whatever Lenin or Mao or Trotsky did was in tandem with Marxian notion of socialism. Before castigating them, we will have to turn Marx upside down and then swear at him.

    I have carefully read arguments against the use of violence for grabbing political power. I agree. It regiments our consciousness. It dehumanises society. Well, but when Bhagat Singh used violence, he didn’t become dehumanised. how does one claim that all those who have arms become dehumanised. It’s such a trite or dull argument. It ultimately depends on your objectives. And why are you sure that if Maoists come to power they will only follow the footsteps of China. Can’t they create a better system? Pol Pot may be a stain in Maoist movement but the coming generation will be like him only is like predicting future. Ah… Marxists/Maoists— all have been learning from their past mistakes. Those who don’t learn become regimented like CPM in West bengal.
    Well, I am not supporting violence but yeah when you naively oppose it, you actually demonise Spartacus, Birsa Munda, Bhagat Singh etc…. Do we have moral guts to do it? I guess not… This is where empire stealthily enters our drawing rooms and takes away all our genuine consciosness. We become like parasite middle class bereft of consciousness and start speaking on the behalf of people who are fighting. Are Maoists so bad or is it the tribal people? Are they really being fooled by maoists or they have learnt the art of living with dignity which we, the middle class, have sold to the state.

    I am still wondering why the Bhopal gas victims have not taken up arms? Will you go and tell Iraqis and Palestinians to refrain from being violent? Well, I really salute the people of Kirghistan who took up arms and killed the Home Minister over price hike and corruption. Isn’t India the same or worse than Kirghistan? I would love if any vanguard revolutionary translates the trotskyte position of urban gurilla warfare into practice in Delhi. Let’s build up a movement towards it. The lower class people who can barely manage their meals will be too happy to see our PM, HM, FM fleeing to Pakistan and build up the same democratic model. Pakistan needs it too—-democracy!!!

  21. Pushpendra permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:52 AM

    Rohini, why do you forget that Arundhati was part of NBA. When she talks about Maoism, she also talks about various ‘democratic’ mass movements. She started her crusade against SEZs long back when Maoism had not become ‘buzzword’. Go and read her book on empire. She has been speaking against American Imperialist aggression on Iraq or Afghanistan. She has also written extensively on Kashmiri struggle. I have seen her sitting in many dharnas at jantar mantar relating to the plight of different kinds of people. Here your criticism is absolutely flawed. I have read almost all her works and she has been active on all fronts unlike many middle class armchair revolutionaries.

  22. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    April 13, 2010 9:07 AM

    Pushpendra, this tendency on the part of several commentators including yourself, to defend Arundhati personally is entirely misplaced, missing the point altogether.
    (But really, I’m certain no post on kafila has called her the “barbie doll of movements”. If such a phrase has slipped by in any reader’s comment, we condemn it unconditionally. Do direct us to that comment, Pushpendra, so that we can rectify our mistake even now.)
    Here on kafila, what you see is Arundhati’s views on Maoism being taken seriously enough to be debated on the Left spectrum. To conflate these critiques with the kind of abuse that has been hurled at her on the Right and by self-professed nationalists over the years, reveals political illiteracy or motivated misrepresentation. Arundhati has long been a fellow-traveller with those on the broad Left, and she continues to be, hence this kind of engaged response. Those writing on Maoism here have long histories of political activism of various sorts, including but not limited to “sitting at Jantar Mantar”, if that is a qualification to engage critically with Arundhati.
    I have a doubt though – when you say “I have seen her sitting…” I suspect you mean you have seen the media coverage the day after, not that you were personally present at Jantar Mantar, for if you are the sort to frequent dharnas, you might not make the sort of ill-informed and unnecessary personal defence of Arundhati you make here, and might focus rather, on the issues being raised.

  23. debabrata banerjee permalink
    April 13, 2010 10:37 AM

    @ Pushpendra ; If citing a number of examples [ which are presented as straight, uncomplicated facts] to show the setbacks and `defeats’ [ again presented like fait accompli and `settled, e'g., the Bhopal gas victims case] suffered by mass democratically organized movements goes on to justify a case for the politics of violence [ always linked to shedding blood, killing, etc], it is equally easy to counter them by citing innumerable facts as examples to show when and where politics of violence have lead to huge, irreparable and defeats on the scale of inordinately long term , of a more permanent and paralysing nature. Politically speaking even Gandhi did not dismiss violence as a means out of hand, all the time as any dogmatist on this manner would. According to him participating through non-violent means required greater courage [ when unarmed resistance faces upto the armed might of the state], ethical intransigence and a resolve without any promise of immediate success. But then Gandhi was not a crude empiricist, least given to making statements in a matter of fact way, clear about making the distinction between private beliefs and habits from public positions and given to create disproportionate media response. Insofar as Ms Roy’s article is concerned, fed by the media, it is just a passing phase, not a great cause of worry. After all real work always become known when it is time to become known and real questions always get through in the end. But when a large consensus is sought to be built around few articles by an author which intends to say that matters are settled, positions clearly demarcated [ either you are with us or them] even for a limited a short span of time, then it is a cause of worry, even though one can be sad to despair the sight of a dogma taking hold because of peoples incapacity to read and devote time to self-reflect.

  24. pushpendra permalink
    April 13, 2010 10:43 AM

    Nivedita, Do you think I am that sort of a person who will be influenced by media coverage. I have been a part of various political movements and mainly ‘democratic’ ones. Arundhati has always been a part of such movements.

    please refer to Jairus’s response to arundhati’s article where he superficially claimed that Arundhati’s position is romantic and not political enough. Now we are not sitting in a classroom where one has to judge somebody’s political intensity. when I am contributing to this debate, I know rest of the people including me are political enough.
    Even romance is a political category and I love Shelly for his sheer politics. Why romiticising is always bad? It’s very easy to dub somebody as romanticist or romantic. Even marx can’t be spared. gandhi was also a great romantic figure in a similar fashion as maoists are. I have no problem with robin hood either. I guess he had a tremendous political contribution to make. Tell me does Modi also romanticises violence when he killed muslims in Gujrat? Of course not. maoists violence/struggle is natural corrolary to class struggle that our predecessors have envisaged for us. In the same way, as other democratic struggles are. Che was a romantic as well as revolutionary figure. What to leave of him? Other democratic struggles are not getting affected by maoists. The state is already a demonic figure to decimate all currents of society and it will always do so. So understand my point. America occupied Iraq and it’s killing Iraqis everyday. Tell me had Iraq been a ‘democratic’ country, America would not have occupied it!!! The fact is that the state has always been despotic. Indian state has sold its democracy to US. A country which has Khap Panchayat, women are burnt alive just for a scooter, dalits are still untouchables, minorities are targetted, that state can’t be democratic.

  25. Daniel Taghioff permalink
    April 13, 2010 10:58 AM

    @Dash (Mamata I presume…)

    It is too easy to dismiss wider discussion. Having been close to activists (though not to Dantewada) it is clear that being in a ground struggle does not mean an automatic understanding of the strategic issues involved.

    I know that this kind of thing can come across as pontificating, compared to taking up arms or getting your skull cracked at a protest, or going to jail (though how many English speaking middle class activists actually do the first 2?)

    But consider this: 1) at the Vedanta meeting in Salem, no-one really was clear on the strategic context of the struggle. This actually made it harder for groups to think about how they would work together, although there were myriad practical issues in that as well.

    2) This is not just an Indian struggle. JohnG is a London Colleague involved in the SWP there. The recent people’s Tribunal

    http://www.countercurrents.org/ptj120410.htm

    Frames the issues in more Global terms. Now I take on board the valid question, now, on a practical level, how can people overseas intervene?

    Well by pressuring investors for instance, the Church of England and many others did disinvest from Vedanta, that intervention was well aimed.

    We live in an anti-idealogical, pragmatic particular struggle kind of age, and this is based an a level of practical political insight.

    But it is also a response to the Hayeckian philosophy of particularity and difference (as a confound to central planning) that drives neo-liberalism and divides people from one another (you can trace the links through social science fairly easily.)

    So maybe the wider debate looks like pontificating, maybe democratic debate has never made a difference, but maybe not, because if you really believe that, why are you engaging in peaceful methods?

  26. April 13, 2010 1:50 PM

    This is a brilliant critique that can come from someone as passionate and committed as Rohini. She has done great service in warning us not to swallow all that comes from Arundhati with mighty eloquence and glamor. Too often we tend to take freedom in India for granted. Rohini almost instictively compares democracies in Sri lanka and india and lets her most deep rooted thoughts to flow out in this essay. I know from my personal interactions with Rohini in 2005 as well as via my stay in Sri Lanka in 2008; one needs more than an eloquent mind to understand. One needs an experience of being caught in the middle of cross-fire. This essay has that touch of deepest rooting in real world there out and real world there within. One world is not at war against the other.

    Violence has a peculiar quality. Before it gets administered on the target groups i.e Indian State for Maoists and Moists in tribal heartlands for the Indian State, it engulfs completely the respective selves and only then it is able to overflow and inflict other. So I am deeply sensitive to the deep traumas that Indian State as well as Maoists are undergoing in this process.

    Things does not stop here. It goes a step ahead and violence becomes an addiction. Structures get formed getting used to human sacrifices as necessarily for once own survival. Violence without any of them knowing becomes a virus that begins to act out its visions through Maoists as well as Indian State.

    Violence is more fundamental than just a problem of adivasi people. Violence is also the problem of corporates who have been accumulating great amount of wealth by inflicting violence. At a very base level violence spreads hatred, sense of revenge, spiral of misery and accumulative guilt of all those involved in planning and executing this irrespective of the fact as to whom it is used to defend and under the garb of any of the isms. Violence is smart virus, it covers itself and benefits from all the warring sides! Any war has self defeating logic irrespective of who wins and who looses. Violence is also very deeply attractive and seductive at the same time. It is a lethal combination in all the senses that presents itself as solution to grand problems of contemporary times. But people and parties who use it irrespective of the fact that whether they ‘win’ or ‘loose’ in violent exchanges of varying intensities both parties becomes captives of violence.

    India has produced greatest enlightened one in Sidhartha Gautama and I owe my thoughts and actions to him. It is never difficult to overcome temptations of violence. Where there is a will there is a way!

  27. johng permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:40 PM

    Just a quick clarification on the phrase ‘hollowing out of democracy’. At the global level I take it to refer to the increasing cross party concensus on economic liberalisation, something which has also become a feature in the Indian polity. This has indeed made politics of lobbying of government more difficult for activists. This was a framework of understanding which played something of a role in the new shapes of radicalism associated with global social forum movement etc. Much debate of course about the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of activism. Obviously the history of democracy in India is rich and complex. But criticisms of the shortcomings of democracy are part of democracy itself.

  28. johng permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:48 PM

    oh just in terms of the ‘personal defence’ business. I do think that at points claims being made about arundhati ‘when history is written’ going down as apologists for tyranny etc, etc were overstated polemical claims which called forth a response. Not really because of a desire to defend an individual but because of the broader implications of an argument like that for much larger numbers of people who might have some sympathy with many of the claims in the article.

  29. April 13, 2010 7:24 PM

    Excuse me, did I read that correctly: “the failure of violent revolutions to establish anything better”?

    France. The United States. Mexico. Venezuela. Colombia. Peru. Ecuador. Bolivia. Cuba. Haiti. China. Russia. Vietnam. South Africa. Etc.

    I’ll have to stop myself here before I list nearly every country I have basic familiarity of. Rohini, examine your claim more closely: what you mean to write is that violent revolutions do not establish utopias, or even the political systems the revolutionaries themselves aspire to. But they are very, very often “better” then what had existed previously.

    It is only because the revolutions themselves tend, ironically, to facilitate the process of historical amnesia, and make people forget about the greater barbarity of the overthrown regime, that you can make the mistake of saying that violent revolutions fail to make anything better.

    • Rohini permalink
      April 14, 2010 10:46 AM

      I wasn’t aware that the revolutions in France and Haiti took place in the 20th century – thanks for filling me in. To restate my argument, I was talking about twetieth-century revolutions and the fact that all of them have resulted in some form of capitalism. All I was saying was that from the standpoint of the working class or the vast majority of people in society, it is better to live in a capitalism with democracy than in one without. From the standpoint of political freedoms, it is easier for workers to agitate, organise, etc. in a country like India than it is in China. Of course there are large parts of India where even this kind of democracy has practically ceased to exist. But we can say that precisely because India doesn’t have a fake democracy, so we have a standard against which to measure the plight of those areas.

    • April 14, 2010 7:54 PM

      Thanks for the clarification: I couldn’t tell whether you intended the last sentence in that paragraph to incorporate the “20th century” qualifier of a couple sentences back. So let me modify my list accordingly: Mexico, Cuba, China, Russia, Vietnam, South Africa.

      Clearly, you have a more generous definition of capitalism than I do (even though my definition of capitalism is miles wider than that of the right-wing in the United States – but as with so many things in the U.S., the right-wing should be a laughing stock.) I wouldn’t call Cuba, China or Vietnam capitalist, although they each incorporate varying degrees of capitalism within their economic systems. But this is semantics: I would call any system with a minimum of the amount of private ownership in the EU capitalist, while I surmise that you would call any system with as much private ownership as Cuba capitalist. Or perhaps you have another definition that doesn’t center on private ownership – no matter.

      Revolutions are almost always bloody, and deplorable for this reason. And, usually also for the reason that most revolutions end up betraying, to some lesser or greater extent, the ideals of the most admirable revolutionaries. All of the revolutions listed above were stained by this feature. (Joseph Conrad put it better here: http://harpers.org/archive/2010/04/hbc-90006855).

      As the historian Thomas Macaulay, no left-wing radical he, wrote: “We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But the more violent the outrage, the more assured we feel that a revolution was necessary. The violence of these outrages will always be proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned by the oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to live.”

      My point is that even after considering the evil of bloodshed which accompanies revolutions, and the almost inevitable subsequent betrayal of the ideals of the revolutionaries, the pre-revolutionary regime is usually far worse than the blood-soaked revolutionary regime, with its compromised ideals, that succeeds it.

      As a telling example, look at China: the pre-revolutionary regime was so bad, it made the worst excesses of the Mao era look tame by comparison. Witness the doubling of the Chinese lifespan in 30 years after their revolution, including the Great Leap Forward famine and all of the people killed during the Mao era. And while Indian activists certainly have a fair amount of freedom to flap their arms about, wave signs, chant slogans, sing songs, sign petitions, and file court cases, China still today – even after a counterrevolutionary reversion to some of the worst economic features of the pre-revolutionary era – has better health outcomes by far than India. Which is just a fancy way of saying that life for the *average* person in China is much less wretched than life for the *average* person in India.

      If only India had a post-revolutionary period to compare…

    • April 28, 2010 11:03 AM

      By the way – China is no slouch in the agitating department, although organizing faces more official barriers than in India. China sees at minimum many tens of thousands of protests every year. The problem is that the most logical organization for workers to use to air their grievances, their unions, are seen as puppets of the central government through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. So China can have nearly a hundred thousand protests a year, and they accomplish little systemic change because there is no coordinated, unified national leadership.

      Unlike India. … er… or not.

  30. April 13, 2010 7:48 PM

    And another thing: perhaps you should first consider what you mean by “fake democracy” before asking Arundhati what she means. Her usage of the word is closer to its etymological meaning, which is people (demos) power (kratos). If a political system exists that purports to be a democracy, yet power within that system is not shared equally by all the people in the system, then it is a pseudo-democracy, a fake democracy. Precisely how Arundhati uses the term.

    You are using a different, proprietary definition. (“Define your terms, or we will never understand each other.”) That India allows a wider measure of freedom of expression than some of its neighbors does not make it a democracy; that people have struggled nonviolently and made progress does not make India a democracy either.

  31. April 13, 2010 11:34 PM

    Rohini ends with a slight of hand, saying that Arundhati failed to come to grips with the fact that violent revolutions have failed to establish anything better: better than an undefined, ideal democracy.

    Rohini doesn’t even claim that India is a democracy – though she bristles at Arundhati’s claim that it is a fake democracy – she says there is a *struggle for democracy in India*. Now if the popular consensus is that India is a democracy, yet it is merely in some preparatory stage of democracy, struggling for it… then I don’t think “fake democracy” is too far off the mark.

  32. Yojimbo permalink
    April 13, 2010 11:51 PM

    Well – this clamour around ‘demokratia’ is merely smoke-screen.

    ‘Democracy’ is actually the finished product of several pieces. When none of those inherent and complex pieces have been achieved (a large combination of pieces in the case of tribals), and when this ‘democracy’ has been just ‘lifted and shifted’ what you get is a ‘Fake Democracy’. India is a ‘democracy’ but now so is Afghanistan. But then achieving all the underlying framework is too much of a head-ache and dirty for everyone. Isnt it ??

    Well, I may never qualify to pass judgements like several people here but then do humor my staccatos.

  33. Agyatmitra permalink
    April 14, 2010 1:02 PM

    Intellectualisation often separates thinking from feeling. The article and most of the responses demonstrate that.
    I am amazed How Arudnhati Roy thankfully escapes betraying her feeling at the cost of only logic and the baggage of it.
    Consider this, If you were to walk with the comrades for days listening to their stories and seeing them as humans, what will you feel. So Ms Roy has given an authentic account as a human being who has feeling and emotions. To read it as a negation of anything democracy has offered is just analystic.
    We all know how tribals are being forced to become a number, can’t we see what she is trying to say?

  34. Rohini permalink
    April 14, 2010 4:25 PM

    Some final clarifications:

    1. Several responses have questioned the distinction between ‘fake’ and ‘flawed’ democracy, so let me explain. Apartheid South Africa was a fake democracy because the Black majority was constitutionally denied any democratic rights. Present South Africa is a democracy but a flawed one, because although all citizens are entitled to democratic rights, in practice these are often violated. Is this a trivial distinction? Or is the system in India more akin to Apartheid South Africa than to the present regime in that country?

    2. This is not about Arundhati. My problem is not with her, but with the argument that armed struggle to overthrow the state is justified in India because India is a ‘fake democracy’. This is the argument put forward by the CPI (Maoist) – see, for example, the interview with Azad in today’s Hindu, where he justifies armed struggle by saying that ‘The Indian Constitution is consigned to the dustbin by the rulers’ http://beta.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/00103/Edited_text_of_12_2_103996a.pdf Yet in the same interview he comes out with the tired old characterisation of India as a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country that needs a protracted war to carry out a New Democratic Revolution.

    3. I would describe the vast majority of adivasis as proletarians in the broad sense of the term: people who have been and are still being dispossessed of their resources and means of livelihood.

    4. Soumitra Ghosh has described the work of NFFPFW and CSD. Sebastian Rodrigues, who works with GAKUVED, has not described their struggles against the mining mafia in Goa, but you can read more about these here and here. NFFPFW etc. are umbrella organisations that effectively coordinate a host of adivasi mass organisations of forest and village communities, working within the framework of the country’s constitution and in fact seeking to implement its provisions. In my view, they are engaged in discovering ways in which to work out their own emancipation, as Marx puts it in The Civil War in France. To dismiss all these multifarious struggles as failures, as some posts do, is to belittle the courage and tenacity of millions of activists involved in them.

    5. My argument in a nutshell is that our solidarity and support should be for these efforts, and not for an obsolete model of revolution imported from 1940s China, moreover one which asks us to form an alliance with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ (!). There is a disconnect between the adivasi struggle for control over their lives and resources and the Maoists’ struggle for state power which they themselves see as a protracted war, and my fear is that the former is being sacrificed to the latter, just as the struggle for the democratic rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka was sacrificed to the LTTE’s armed struggle for a separate ‘Tamil’ state.

    • April 28, 2010 11:00 AM

      Fair enough – I understand what you mean by fake and flawed democracy. I wouldn’t choose to use the same nomenclature, but we are free to differ. (So long as we define what we mean, of course.) So is Arundhati free to use ‘fake’ where you use ‘flawed’. Perhaps for her, a democracy is ‘fake’ when it is both severely flawed yet widely believed to be a model democracy.

      I think we agree on more things than not. I think you could come to accept that given India’s current situation, the most pressing need is not to criticize the Maoists for their anachronistic, out-of-place borrowing from Mao’s 70-year-old strategy. Rather, it is to criticize the rulers of India, and push them to make the Maoists irrelevant. If they were to remove the fakery and flaws from India’s democracy (which would require them to give away much of the power they currently enjoy, making this scenario most unlikely, in my mind), then the Maoists would have no grievances upon which to draw for their recruitment. Then the state could play the role of the meek pacifist currently urged on the Maoists by so much of the left, and turn the other cheek when the Maoists strike the first.

  35. miao permalink
    April 14, 2010 4:30 PM

    Can’t we see what she is trying to say?

    Asian Center for Human Rights has come out with an extremely important report- “Torture in India 2010″. And according to them-

    “Among all the armed opposition groups in India, the Naxalites or Maoists are probably the worst human rights violators. In blatant disregard for the international humanitarian law, the Maoists continued to kill civilians on the allegation of being
    “police informers”, members of the anti-Maoist civilian militia such as “Salwa Judum” and for not obeying their diktats.

    For more details on “revolutionary violence”, please see:

    http://www.achrweb.org/reports/india/torture2010.pdf

  36. murad permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:46 AM

    Some thoughts and questions raised by the contributions above: these are aimed at summarising positions briefly, necessary for any possibility of establishing where there might be convergence on this list…

    Violence. It seems that critiques of violence come from different stances which are not being spelled out clearly enough: very crudely, there appears to be a spectrum from condemnations of violence per se (moral/philosophical arguments) to more pragmatic critiques of violence in particular contexts, and its (collective) psychological effects on movements. Whatever position one holds, it seems important to distinguish between ritualised – even programmatic – violence, and defensive violence (defence of a community or an individual)? How “Maoist” violence is categorised on this spectrum will presumably be a matter of disagreement, but a minimal starting point must surely be a willingness to condemn violence as ritual, a la Pol Pot and Shining Path…?

    History and violent revolution. This is perhaps tangential to the main thrust of the debates above, but is it not the case that violence has been *an element* in 20th century movements which have resulted in positive change (e.g. in South Africa? Cuba?). To make such an argument is not to say that anti-colonial or “revolutionary” violence does not leave scars on post-colonial/post-revolutionary societies. But, equally, post-revolutionary developments do not just reflect the violence of revolution: they reflect pre-revolutionary cultures of authoritarianism, economic structures, structures of inequality, the ideological programmes of the main actors, etc. In any case, prior to a discussion of revolutionary violence, the real question is: is the characterisation of the Maoist programme in terms of revolution in any sense correct?

    The Maoists. Is this category well defined? There seem to be many specific problems with Maoist politics: a culture of authoritarianism; an apparent programme of acquiring hegemony over peoples’ movements; the centrality/ritualisation of violence; the ideological “ends” – the seizure of state power and construction of a new Stalinist entity… It seems important that these criticisms are spelled out explicitly and, where possible, backed up empirically.

    Arundathi’s positions. The criticisms are again manifold, but perhaps need more careful characterisation. One issue seems to be a romanticisation of violence, made more worrying by the eloquence of her prose. Another, a tendency to focus on a subset of actors – in this case to ignore tribal movements not under Maoist leadership or control. Another, straightforwardly anti-statist positions and a simplistic characterisation of the state itself, without acknowledgement of the complexity of the notion of the state, and its internal contradictions. Linked to this appears to be a reluctance to problematise authoritarianism and violence of non-state actors. Are these consistent features of her (political) writing? Is there space for engagement with her?

    Democracy. One needs to be careful not to get bogged down in semantic debates. This said, at the very least it seems necessary to distinguish between the existence of a democratic framework, and practical realisation(s) of this framework. Presumably “fake democracy” was a rhetorical turn of phrase aimed at highlighting that for some in India there is not much practical reality to their apparent constitutional rights and freedoms. I doubt there is disagreement on this list that democracy in practice is not evenly spread across India – across geography, class, caste, etc. Nevertheless, it seems important not to dismiss in a broad sweep the existence of a democratic framework, and to note those situations where it has provided space for peoples’ movements which could not have existed otherwise… An open question is whether there are contexts in India where there is no democratic space at all, and if this is the case then what do we, from armchairs or otherwise, do?

  37. debabrata banerjee permalink
    April 15, 2010 2:50 PM

    This note is both a response and opposition to censorship which has been done in the name of moderation. In the name of democracy, a mention of the most original version of democracy has been expunged. It has been done without providing any explanation or justification. Since I take that as a sign of pure ignorance joined by a growing arrogance let me qualify what I mean.
    The term isonomia is not a semantic distinction, besides semantics is not something to be sneered at. Democracy is an ancient word whose contents were selectively appropriated from its original appearance in Greek history. Isonomia established itself as a revolt against rule by tyrants who dictated their political terms from a limited gathering in agoras, a religious space around temples. This tyrannical form of rule was called monarkhia which created huge disparities and inequality for perpetuating a rule of the rich few over the many poor. Isonomia means equality of opposing powers. Establishment of Isonomia was a revolutionary expression of popular rule against tyrants. It meant political equality of all citizens, equal political rights and equal opportunities when it came to holding ruling positions. Candidates for holding such offices was based on the draw of lots, instead of privilege and heredity as had been the practice under tyrannical forms of rule. Equality did not connote reconciliation of opposing powers but their parity in the form of Isonomia. The rich and the aristocracy were not denied the right to selection and balloting but since they were a tiny minority, the power of numbers went against them. That is when their conspiracies began, especially from early 6th c. for affecting destabilization and creating conditions of stasis or civil strife that would become a permanent feature in the 5th c. In order to effectuate civil strife they organized the demos [ whose equivalent is a mob] and in places where the demos took control they provided the perfect cover for oligarchical and tyrannical rule. In Herodotus’ histories the justification offered by some Greek spokesperson prior to the battle of Salamis against Persians was that they would defend popular institutions, isonomia and equality that they had established against the Persians rather than freedom, which only existed for the few who lived in the cities. Aristocratic and tyrannical reaction throughout the fifth c. BC managed to bring down isonomia in the name of `ancient simplicity’ of Homeric times when the agora was supreme but the most pernicious element that proved more effective both in periods of stasis and stability was corruption. Pericles’ funeral oration signalled the ending of two centuries of `democratic’ history, stasis and aristocratic misrule.After the Athenian defeat the curtain closed on last vestiges of democratic equality and equal political rights for citizens. Roman world was pure rule by aristocracy and dictatorship, and the system of private property was enough to deny any political rights for inhabitants at large.

    This is not an academic issue at all. To ask whether something as archaic as democracy is compatible with the age of capital and technology is totally valid. If there is one merit in Arundhati’s article it is that she has questioned democracy not by dismissing it as a matter of principle but in its form of appearance as rule by oligarchy. It is a relevant question, especially for those who have experienced the limits of grass-roots democratic movements in contemporary times. It may also be fit to remind those who mention democratic forms that have emerged in modern times with the Paris commune, unions, workers councils, soviets , etc, insofar as all these forms have attempted to wrest the alienated political sphere represented by the state from the side or the principle of radical equality, political exercise of rights and free association of socialized humanity. Democracy has to remain an open ended question, unless a flatland logic of status quo going by the nomenclature, bourgeois democracy is sought to be reinforced under one pretext or another.

  38. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    April 20, 2010 8:57 AM

    Debabrata,
    Moderation on kafila is meant to ensure a productive debate. When one person, in this case yourself, comes in again and again with very lengthy comments, more or less elaborating on points that have already been made, a conversation ceases to happen. For instance, immediately after this comment, you have sent in yet another one which is as long and goes over similar arguments that you have already made here. We are therefore not approving that either.
    If the idea was to “censor” you, we would not have approved five comments from you on this post and several on Jairus’s, some longer than the original posts themselves!

  39. April 20, 2010 7:54 PM

    For more on Kafila’s moderation policy:

    http://kafila.org/contact/

  40. April 21, 2010 1:58 AM

    I agree with some of the points of Rohini, but I think she is missing the point. Arundhati Roy is a Social activist first and an objective journalist later.

    I’ll give credit to AR in bringing out (giving a voice) the Mao / Adivasi’s side of the story….before this it was a one sided match. At least for most of the mainstream media.

    Plus Rohini talks so much about “Fake democracy”; I want to know if her accusation is about an error in semantics….because she herself goes on to say-
    ” No one can seriously deny that India’s democracy is terribly flawed”

    I am pained by such deflections and trivialization of the real issue. I wrote in more detailed self loathing sarcasm, but posted the link under wrong article…..it shud be here…

    http://ajaypriyadarshi.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/shoot-the-messenger/

  41. Asit permalink
    May 3, 2010 4:42 PM

    i brief question to sebestaian he is inspired by sidhhartha gautam can if he comes back to life again can he negotiate with the indian ruling classes for a peaceful transtion to socialism then il join you
    if wars are voilent can they be lumped together is there no difference between just and unjust war liberating wars and imperialist wars
    did the vietnamese people have the right to fight a war of liberation or should we reject it

  42. Asit permalink
    May 3, 2010 4:56 PM

    i think we are not able to distinguish between formal democracy and genuine democracy capitalist democracy is fake because voting in five years doesnt make a democratic society how can a feudal society be democratic it has a long way to go just think throgh the eyes of the frightened dalits of mirchpur
    i think there can be no authentic democracy with out radical restruring of property relationships

  43. May 3, 2010 11:17 PM

    Asit, I am not looking for any followers to me. I walk solo in my beliefs and actions. Sidhartha Gautama if comes alive can he change ruling class for peaceful transition to socialism? I live this question for Sidhartha Gautama who was from ruling class of his time to answer whenever he comes alive in me.

    I have no right to speak on his behalf. I speak from my own experience and Sindharth Gautama is not only important influence but electrifying inspiration.

    Also I do not sit over the judgment of the past wars of whatever variety. I am satisfied with my common sense understanding that any war for any cause involves untold misery and violence and I recommend it to none.

    These views are my alone and I do not subscribe to any ‘we’ who may or may hold them. I respect your right to dissent and I expect you respect mine too.

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