Renowned Indian writer Arundhati Roy. — File photo
In Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.
“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”
India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.
“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.
“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”
Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.”
India’s demographic dynamics are such that even mundane projects, such as constructing a road, displace thousands of people, never mind large dams and massive mining projects. The country has a thriving civil society, labour unions and polity that channel this resistance. The resistance frustrates corporate ambitions. “They now want to militarise it and quell it through military means,” she says. Ms Roy thinks that the quelling “does not necessarily mean one has to massacre people, it can also be achieved by putting them under siege, starving them out, killing and putting those who are seen to be ‘leaders’ or’ ‘instigators’ into prison.” Also, the hyper Hindu-nationalist discourse which has been given popular affirmation will allow those resisting ‘development’ to be called anti-nationals. She narrates the example of destitute small farmers who had to abandon their old ways of subsistence and plug in to the market economy.
In 2012 alone, around 14,000 hapless farmers committed suicide in India. “These villages are completely resourceless, barren and dry as dust. The people are mostly Dalits. There is no politics there. They are pushed into the polling booths by power brokers who have promised their overlords some votes,” she adds, citing her recent visit to villages in Maharashtra that has the highest rate of farmer suicides in India.
So is there no democracy in India then? “It would be too sweeping to say that,” she retorts. “There is some amount of democracy. But you also can’t deny that India has the largest population of the poor in the world. Then, there hasn’t been a single day since independence when the state has not deployed the armed forces to quash insurgencies within its boundaries. The number of people who had been killed and tortured is incredible. It is a state that is continuously at war with its people. If you look at what is happening in places like Chhattisgarh or Odisha, it will be an insult to call it a democracy.”
Ms Roy believes that elections have become a massive corporate project and the media is owned and operated by the same corporations too. She opines that “some amount of democracy” in India is reserved for its middle classes alone and through that they are co-opted by the state and become loyal consumers of the state narrative of people’s resistances.
“The 2014 elections have thrown up some strange conundrums,” she muses. “For eg, the BSP, Mayawati’s party, which got the third largest vote share in the country, has won no seats. The mathematics of elections are such that even if every Dalit in India voted for her, she could have still not won a single seat.”
“Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government,” she continues. “Technically and legally, there is no party with enough seats to constitute an opposition. But many of us have maintained for several years that there never was a real opposition. The two main parties agreed on most policies, and each had the skeleton of a mass pogrom against a minority community in its cupboard. So now, it’s all out in the open. The system lies exposed.”
India’s voters have given their verdict. But the blunt question that Ms Roy raises remains unanswered: where will India’s poor go?
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014