Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Arundhati's Choice

The Maoist insurgency has been able to wake their comrades out of deep slumber in Urban India. The intensity of attacks on police and civil society in the name of revolution demanded an unambiguous stand. It’s not just the tribals, who are hostages to the Maoists, society at large had been affected and watch the events with apprehension. That is where the political stance of the vocal champions among erstwhile human rights activists and socialites seizing the moment are viewed with a lot of scrutiny and cynicism. They do not have many admirers anymore as the collective consciousness of Indian body politic has become much more complex and stakeholders from multiple strata of society are actively engaged in their response.

For many the insurgency is an Indian version of a socio-political theater from the late sixties. Wayward violence and anarchic lifestyle then put off their sympathizers among the middleclass communities everywhere. The appeal they had among the Sixties and Seventies youth had vanished gradually as governments in Europe began to shed its fascist vestiges, co-opted socialist principles into democracy and became more inclusive. It also helped that the political issues they championed went out of intelligentsia's radar geopolitically and nationally. Most of them met with individual dead-ends, disillusioned or compromised. The prominence of Absurd Theater and writers like Sartre and Camus signified the dynamic of personal dysfunction and flawed political consciousness of the time.

The mayhem caused by the Weatherman in USA, RZ and RAF (Red Army Faction) in Germany is a forerunner of the terrorist methodology now. However it was interesting to see their relationship with the PLO with whom they got trained to wield arms and participated in multiple plane hijacks. In a way, there was a time when the paths of extreme ideologues from the Left, Islamic Jihadists and liberation theologians’ have crossed purely on the basis of their views of social issues of poverty, depravation and justice. Their cooperation was that of mutual convenience too, as the true nature of their ideologies were glossed over by the heady allure of socialist ideals. Occupations of Vietnam and Israel, compulsive hatred towards the perceived or otherwise fascist disposition of authority, prolific academic (Gramsci, Althuser etc) and underground literature provided the impetus to take charge.

Revolution is being used interchangeably for the Maoist violence in India, which has Germany, Vietnam and Israel rolled into one. International outlets for liberal left (Universities, BBC, NewYork Times, NPR etc) have given succor and much coveted recognition to the activists to carry out their anti-government propaganda. Suddenly encounter deaths, Gujarat, Kashmir independence movement and minority persecution are not that important anymore. Narratives have begun to pour in print, television and internet about the murky world of big corporate, looting politicians and colluding media barons. Marxian polemic is replaced with human rights harangue while unapologetically blinkered about the objectives of Maoist and Islamic fundamentalists. It’s rather easy to say that if either of these militant group had their way, the first casualty would be secular democracy and the subsequent liquidation of Left activists for who they are – Infidel or rotten elite. V.S.Naipaul (Among the Believers) observed in the aftermath of Iranian Revolution - Ayatollah Khomeini, having hoodwinked left wing activists in the west during his exile in France, pulled the fundamentalist curtain on his communist backers right after Shah was overthrown. Similarly Maoists might not be able to resist an urge to cleanse the country of class enemies even if they belong to the radical chic.

The spectacle of conflict is played out in Indian homes through television and internet. Here is where people like Arundhati Roy, Vijay Prasad, Gautam Navlakha et al who have embedded themselves in academies and highbrow careers, target specific political entities and espouse chosen ideology to paint everything in black and white. In the end infintely complex issues get reduced to empty rhetoric on identity versus class conflict. But unlike Eighties and Nineties, when Marxist comrades controlled the print media and universities, internet age liberated a different variety of literate middleclass who grew up to call their bluff, challenge their ideology and more importantly recognize them for who they are – pompous elites with a rigid sense of social hierarchy and territory.

Home minister Chidambaram recognizes this. His pointing to the Left Activists as the reason for his inaction is a tactic to discredit the government’s most shrill critics who are diplomatic liability having access to international opinion space. While this is shrewd in its quest for public opinion, it is dangerous too, as more and more civilians and Police personnel get killed. Both sides are imposing intellectual dhimmitude on public discourse instead of full disclosure and understanding.

In the film Baader-Meinholf complex (2008), the hyper-activist Gudrun Ensslin accused the Marxist polemicist Ulrike that she had theorized too much to evade real action. Ulrike Meinholf, a popular journalist too, presented the introspective voice which acknowledged the darker shades of means and motives of revolutionaries. Ulrike was challenged to make a crossover to become a guerilla. She eventually did exactly that, for which she ultimately paid by taking her own life.

When I learn that Ms. Roy has moved to the other side to report, eulogize and now daring the government to arrest her, the natural question is would Ms. Roy do an Ulrike redux? Or is there too much at stake not to cross that threshold?

Note: Among the Believers, an islamic journey (V.S. Naipaul),Film - Baader-Meinholf complex

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