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Friday, June 25, 2010

Intellectuals And Their Idee fixe

[For the fellow travelers, people can] “be divided into two camps, one the incarnation of good and the other of evil”.
Raymond Aron in "The  Opium Of The Intellectuals."

Operation Green Hunt is perhaps the first determined and concerted effort at neutralizing the Maoist threat and it certainly has put them to notice about the seriousness of the intent of the Indian state.  It is too early to predict its outcome, but it has  thrown the domestic politics in a state of ferment. The ruling establishment itself, going by the press reports, is wracked by internal squabbles and dissensions. Some commentators have expressed the fear whether it will stick to its resolve to fight the Maoist menace or give in to the doubts and self criticism of many of its own allies, party ideologues and intellectuals. One gets a feeling that a significant section of the political opinion in this country wants not only the Operation Green Hunt stopped but some actually wish the Maoists to win. Never was the need for collective thinking to establish a consensus in accordance with the prevailing realities of the situation felt more urgently than today. In a polity dominated by violence in all its forms, in a society where legitimate authority is fast losing its grip over its constituents, the theory of the state as being the sole repository of coercive force needs to be made practical through sustained and purposive engagement. “I do not want to take names”, the Union Home Minister was quoted as saying the other day, “but many of them are highly educated …..They write very well”. This group is propagating the view that “the government is bad and has to be fought at every turn and every stage.” Arundhati Roy’s Gandhi with the Guns must take the pride of place in this form of writing.

In the view of a sympathetic blogger Arundhati Roy’s essay Walking with the comrades, “somehow manages to tread that very fine line of neutrality… she indicates her distance from her subject quite rigorously and repeatedly…..” Her case could not have been stated better— however as one goes along one will wonder whether this is the only reading possible - but the point is which ideal reader has Arundhati Roy in mind- only the trained literary critic with a fine ear and an alert mind for the modulation of the narrator’s voice? Or the common reader at whom mass media is generally directed the reader whose critical resources are not quite equal to the task of the fine distinction demanded by the text. In view of the widespread debate that this essay has initiated both in the mainstream as well as the alternate media, it is clear that people have engaged with it as a serious political text and it has been taken as an endorsement of the Maoist violence. Hence the issue for the debate could be formulated along these lines – is Ms Roy merely indulging her taste for literary exuberance and bucolics or is it a cleverly camouflaged Maoist propaganda?

Arundhati Roy’s fame and standing spreads far beyond her vocation as a writer and she is one of the foremost public intellectuals of our time. The public intellectual speaks on a wide variety of issues of contemporary concern to which he brings an oracular authority. Illuminating the issues in the light of his clear thinking, he analyses the situation dispassionately and objectively in order to situate the issue in its proper context. Apart from the value of what he says his writings are also remarkable for lucidity, reasonableness, and objectivity. Therefore with the enormous power to influence public opinion and shape up public policy comes a tremendous responsibility, especially in view of the fact that the likes of Arundhati Roy hold the monopoly to the creation and supply of emancipatory ideas to this world. No one denies that  she owed the debt of hospitality to those who are sworn to the destruction of the Indian state  but she also enjoys the trust and confidence of the civil society, howsoever ineffectual it may be. So “the fine line of neutrality” was a just requirement of the occasion and merging her voice with that of her temporary hosts an act of betrayal.

Ms Roy’s notions of the Maoist struggle are not only romantic they are a little infantile as well. “I am surrounded by these strange, beautiful children with their curious arsenal. They are all Maoists for sure. Are they all going to die …?” What does one make of this meaningless babble? Beautiful or not, children or adult, what other fate can befall those who are fighting a protracted war with the state. And should these young guerrillas for whom the cinematic killing of the hero at the end of the movie Mother India is weak ,maudlin stuff, the real “blowing up of policemen” is their quota of entertainment be referred to as children and kids again and again? The heavy duty sarcasm in the description of these guerillas as “internal security threat”, “Gravest Internal Security Threat”, “blood thirsty” should leave no one in doubt that the story is being narrated from a partisan point of view.

Her lyrical advocacy of the valiant Maoist guerrillas battling the Indian state for the rights of the poor is aided by some clever debating skills as well. First an ex parte hearing is given to the Maoists to help them build formidable case against the Indian state, as indeed it is possible to do so against any state, at any time of human history. The considerable evidence against the Maoists- formidable as it may appear to those who are not their camp followers- is not put up at all. Then all the clich├ęd and counterfeit universals of such a discourse are deployed to justify their wanton killings which are termed as just reprisals for brutal policies of the enemies they are up against. “The gruesome beheading of the policeman Francis Induvar is still fresh in everyone's mind” for which the Maoists will not even make a plea of diminished responsibility; the moral and spiritual blame for the beheading of the ill-fated cop must be squarely laid at the doors of the Indian state. Ms Roy argues “by institutionalizing injustice in the way that it does, the Indian State has turned this country into a tinderbox of massive unrest.” And yes! Maoists are very generous. They are ready to pay compensation to the family of the bereaved whom they kill with diabolic unconcern, or collateral damage that they inflict, a very capitalist solution! Ms Roy does not instruct us whether this should be made  the  rule of engagement?  Money for killings - on either side? For the record since Ms Roy composed her panegyric, "the beautiful children" have toted up an impressive figure of several hundreds of innocent anonymous civilians killed in trains and buses blown up in different locales in different parts of the country as a “specific solution to a specific problem”. To be sure the videos of these  would provide invaluable instruction and entertainment of the  future generations of the "beautiful children."

Arundhati Roy’s account, largely on the basis of her tutorial in the jungles of Dandakaranya, seeks to construct an uncontested narrative of the whole Maoist movement as also a part of our hsitory.So far so good. No one can dispute that these “comrades”-the adivasi foot soldiers- have been dealt a very bad hand. But what is sad and dispiriting is her conclusion that this binary world of the hunted and the oppressive state has arrived at a stage of social and political entropy that the possibility of change though any agency other than violence appears nonexistent, as if the countless democratic non violent struggles to overcome the local environments of oppression and exploitation through peaceful means throughout the country were not part of our time and place. The success of Indian constitutional democracy may not satisfy some absolutist standards but who can deny the fact that to it we owe the radical change in power relations that obtained  sixty years back and the subalterns and the marginalized have acquired their new character. But to admit this possibility would be inconsistent with the Maoist  strategy of invoking force to justify counterforce and  engender a vicious cycle of alienation of  more and more  people.

But Ms Roy will have none of it .She is convinced that the present system has outlived its utility. “I think of what Comrade Venu said to me: They want to crush us, not only because of the minerals, but because we are offering the world an alternative model.”But this “alternative model” was experimented with, in half the world, for the best part of the century, and it fell on its face not by the application of superior force but by the greater appeal of the liberal market democracy. Whether the resurrection of Marx who now indubitably belongs to the heritage of European culture is a viable project, whether the formidable edifice of Marxist reflection and analysis which dealt in certitudes would be as relevant in an age when there has been such a radical change in the character of productive forces, technology and human society, one cannot be too sure. The leftist discourse itself is such a mishmash of Marxist ideology, vague socialist leanings, phrases and ideas adapted from the neo liberal discourse, bourgeois political opportunism of the worst kind, and proletarian confiscation for the private profit, downright criminality and hedonism. And those who are running the show know that such projects thrive on impossible promises. So in order to keep the hope alive lies, deceit duplicity and force are important weapons in their arsenal especially when they are dealing with their own followers.

Not that Ms Roy is unaware of this, “When the party is a suitor (as it now is in Dandakaranya), wooing the people, attentive to their every need, then it genuinely is a People’s Party, its army genuinely a People’s Army. But after the revolution easily this love affair can turn into a bitter marriage. How easily the Peoples’ army can turn upon the people. Today in Dandakaranya, the Party wants to keep the bauxite in the mountain. Tomorrow will it change its mind?” This bit of thinking aloud should have been posed to the Gandhians with the Guns. As a public intellectual she owed it to the society to act as an interlocutor between the mutually hostile parties to the dispute but she keeps these doubts to herself and expresses the optimism, “But can we, should we let apprehensions about the future immobilize us in the present.” That is too heavy a price to pay for the salt of her hosts.

Her apologists say she is not obliged to give out a programmatic vision for the whole of India so long as she can write some stirring prose extolling the social bandits of Dandakaranya. As all her previous reflections have shown, she is good only at fulminations and polemics, grandstanding and high rhetoric. Perhaps it is we who have been dupes to our own optimism, pouring over her tiresomely long disquisitions hoping against hope that “A directionless dyslexic, capable of getting lost between my bedroom and my bath room” would show us the way out of the most serious crisis in our nationhood.