Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. At the end of a week when the Maoists have been on the front pages practically every day, we present a completely different perspective to that of the government’s. My guest today is an author, essayist and Booker Prize winner, Arundhati Roy.
Karan Thapar: I want to talk to you about how you view the Maoists and how you think the government should respond, but first, how do you view the recent hostage taking in Bihar where four policemen were kidnapped and kept kidnapped for eight days, and one of them – Lukas Tete – murdered?
Arundhati Roy: I don’t think there is anything revolutionary about killing a person that is in custody. I have made a statement where I said it was as bad as the police killing Azad, as they did, in a fake encounter in Andhra. But, I actually shy away from this atrocity-based analysis that’s coming out of our TV screens these days because a part of it is meant for you to lose the big picture about what is this war about, who wants the war? Who needs the war?
Karan Thapar: I want very much to talk about the big picture. But, before I come to that, let me point out something else. In the last one year, the Maoists have beheaded Francis Induwar and Sanjoy Ghosh; they have killed Lokus Tete. They have kidnapped other policemen. There have been devastating attacks in Dantewada, there has been the sabotage of the Gyaneshwari Express. In your eyes, does it amount to legitimate strategy or tactics, or does it detract from the Maoist cause?
Arundhati Roy: You can’t bundle them all together. For example the train accident. I don’t think anybody knows who did it yet.
Arundhati Roy: Everyone can be convinced. But it is not enough to be convinced. You got to have facts and the facts are unravelling every day.
Karan Thapar: What about the Dantewada, the beheadings, the kidnappings?
Arundhati Roy: This thing is that now what’s happening is that there is a situation of conflict, of war. So, you have set out a litany of the terrible acts of violence that have taken place inflicted by one side and left out the picture of what’s going on the other side, which is that you have two hundred thousand paramilitary forces closing in on these poorest villages, evicting people, burning people. Of course, all violence is terrible but if you want to get into what actually is going on, we will have to discuss it in slightly more detail.
Karan Thapar: So what you are suggesting is that we have a spiral of violence where what one side does to the other justifies the response and, in a sense, you don’t want to blame one or the other. You see them both as equally guilty?
Arundhati Roy: No I don’t. I don’t see both as equally guilty and I don’t want to justify anything. I see a government breaking every sort of law in the Constitution that it has about tribal people and assault on the homelands of millions of people and some, there is a resistance force that is resisting that. Now, that situation is becoming violent, becoming ugly. And if you start trying to extract morality out of it, you are going to be in a mess.
Karan Thapar: But one thing that is crystal clear from what you said is you see the government as the first person, the first party, at fault. The bigger fault, the first fault, is the government’s, you see the Maoists as just responding.
Arundhati Roy: I see the government absolutely, as the major aggressor. As far as the Maoists are concerned, of course, their ideology is an ideology of overthrowing the Indian state with violence. However, I don’t believe that if the Indian state was a just state, if ordinary people had some minor hope for justice, the Maoists would just be a marginal group of militants with no popular appeal.
Arundhati Roy: Let me tell you, forget the Maoists. Every resistance movement, armed or unarmed, and the Maoists today are fighting to implement the Constitution, and the government is vandalising it.
Karan Thapar: Let’s focus for the moment on the Maoists because they are the ones that have been in the news all this week. The prime minister sees the Maoists as the single biggest security threat to the country. I take it that your perception of them is completely different. How do you perceive the Maoists?
Arundhati Roy: I perceive them as a group of people who have at a most militant end in the bandwidth of resistance movements that exist in the cities, in the planes and in the forests.
Karan Thapar: But what are they seeking to do? What is their justification?
Arundhati Roy: Well, their ultimate goal, as they say quite clearly, is to overthrow the Indian state and institute the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is their ultimate goal but…
Arundhati Roy: I don’t support that goal in the sense that I don’t believe the solution to the problem the world is in right now will come from an imagination either communist or capitalist because…
Karan Thapar: That I understand but do you support any attempt to overthrow the Indian state?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I can’t say I do because they will lead me from here, in chains.
Karan Thapar: That technicality apart, it sounds as if you do.
Arundhati Roy: However, I believe that the Indian state has abdicated its responsibility to the people. I believe that. I believe that when a state is no longer bound, neither legally nor morally by the Indian Constitution, either we should rephrase the preamble of the Indian Constitution which says…
Karan Thapar: Or?
Arundhati Roy: Which says we are a sovereign, democratic, secular republic. We should rephrase it and say we are a corporate, Hindu, satellite state.
Karan Thapar: Or?
Arundhati Roy: Or we have to have a government which respects the Constitution or we change the Constitution.
Karan Thapar: Let me be blunt. It sounds very much to the audience as if you are trying to find a clever, subtle way of saying that you do support the Maoists commitment to overthrow the state but you are scared to say it upfront because you are scared that you would be whisked away to jail.