Sunday, 22 January 2012
Saturday, 21 January 2012
Noting that the anti-corruption agitation by Team Anna is a ‘corporate-sponsored media campaign’, writer Arundhati Roy on Friday said that the law (Lokpal) they are advocating is ‘un-Gandhian’.
Roy also criticised Team Anna for keeping mum on corporate power and cross-ownership of business.
"Their anti-corruption agitation was a corporate- sponsored media campaign and hence Team Anna chose to remain silent," she said, adding that even though the movement was said to follow Gandhian principles, the law they advocate is highly ‘un-Gandhian’.
"They want a centralised, draconian agency with powers to prosecute, investigate and punish," she said, while delivering the 4th Anuradha Ghandy memorial lecture.
"This movement did not say a word about privatisation, corporate power and economic reforms. It did not demand end to cross-ownership of businesses or laws that could dismantle concentration of wealth and power," she said, adding that there was only public mauling of politicians.
Roy said that Hazare's definition of corruption came from an accountant's imagination.
She also said that the media, ‘which is hostile to people's movement, became travel agents for Anna Hazare’. According to her, the movement capitalised on genuine rage against corporate scams and fury of ordinary Indians.
"A round-the-clock corporate sponsored media campaign proclaimed it to be the voice of the people," she said.
Writer/activist Arundhati Roy known to take on the establishment, took on the country’s richest man on Friday. Addressing the audience at St Xavier’s College for the Anuradha Gandhy Memorial lecture, she was in her usual belligerent form. “Since we are talking about poonjiwad ka pret (the ghost of capitalism) I shall start with one and only Mukesh Ambani. I had gone to see Antilla on Altamount Road; and my friend who had accompanied me said, ‘Here we are, pay your respects to our new ruler.’”
That was just a beginning: “I’d read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the 27 floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the 600 servants. (But) nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn - a soaring wall of grass -- attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, ‘trickle down’ had not worked. When I walked away, (I saw) a board on a nearby building that read: ‘Bank of India’.”
Hoisting Ambani and his multi-million dollar house as the symbol of India’s capitalism, the Booker winner spoke of how a handful of corporates have cornered the country’s major share of wealth.
Mentioning Tata, Jindal, Essar, Infosys, Vedanta, Mittal and Reliance as some of the corporate houses that have cornered India’s one-fourth of GDP, Roy stressed on how cross-ownership of businesses had made the rich richer and the poor, poorer. She backed her arguments with well-accumulated statistics and allegations of politician-corporate nexus underestimating the quantity of reserves, and the actual market value of public assets, leading to the siphoning off of billions of dollars of public money.
“We have no law against cross-ownership of businesses; and thus, we have a situation where corporates are not misusing their position but using a position that the government has provided them,” Roy said. Castigating policy makers on how, for 0.2 per cent royalty, India was allowing corporates to mine minerals worth trillions of dollars, how so “many secret MoUs” were being signed, and dams being built without the consent of the people, she said, “India is colonising itself.”
Roy used her quintessential wit to take pot shots at farcical corporate social responsibility initiatives of companies and how companies invested in various foundations to form public opinion in favour of capitalism.
“The Tatas run two of the largest charitable trusts in India. Recently, they donated $50m to that needy institution called the Harvard Business School. The Jindals, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, run the Jindal Global Law School, which recently had a workshop on how to hold protests,” she said.
She also attacked the US for its “war economy” and Indian companies “aligning with this model”, and the Indian Left for having failed to adapt to Indian conditions and completely botching up the caste and class issue. “That is why they have been restricted to tribal belts in India,” she said.
She ended her speech with another attack on the symbol of India’s capitalism, Antilla, which she called the single biggest secessionist movement in India that divided upper and lower class. She concluded: “As early stars appear in Mumbai’s darkening sky, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appear outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blaze on... Someone said Antilla has snatched Mumbai’s nights. It’s time to snatch it back.”
Post her speech, a student, looking at Marxist books on sale outside the venue, summed up the evening: “Dude, I am a hardcore Capitalist. I don’t believe in dismantling capitalism. But what she was talking about is not Capitalism, it was crony Capitalism. And that’s a scourge.”
Saturday, 14 January 2012
By Arundhati Roy
Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamount Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “pay your respects to our new ruler.”
Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I’d read about this, the most expensive dwelling ever built, the 27 floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the 600 servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn – a soaring wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches, bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, “trickle down” had not worked.
But “gush-up” has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2bn, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to a quarter of gross domestic product.
The word on the street (and in The New York Times) is, or at least was, that the Ambanis were not living in Antilla. Perhaps they are there now, but people still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, vastu and feng shui. I think it’s all Marx’s fault. Capitalism, he said, “ ... has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.
In India, the 300m of us who belong to the new, post-“reforms” middle class – the market – live side by side with the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800m who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than 50 cents a day.
Mr Ambani is personally worth more than $20bn. He has a controlling majority stake in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of Rs2.41tn ($47bn) and an array of global business interests. RIL has a 95 per cent stake in Infotel, which a few weeks ago bought a major share in a media group that runs television news and entertainment channels. Infotel owns the only national 4G broadband licence. He also has a cricket team.
RIL is one of a handful of corporations, some family-owned, some not, that run India. Some of the others are Tata, Jindal, Vedanta, Mittal, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilt across Europe, central Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s largest private-sector power companies.
Since the cross-ownership of businesses is not restricted by the “gush-up gospel” rules, the more you have, the more you can have. Meanwhile, scandal after scandal has exposed, in painful detail, how corporations buy politicians, judges, bureaucrats and media houses, hollowing out democracy, retaining only its rituals. Huge reserves of bauxite, iron ore, oil and natural gas worth trillions of dollars were sold to corporations for a pittance, defying even the twisted logic of the free market. Cartels of corrupt politicians and corporations have colluded to underestimate the quantity of reserves, and the actual market value of public assets, leading to the siphoning off of billions of dollars of public money. Then there’s the land grab – the forced displacement of communities, of millions of people whose lands are being appropriated by the state and handed to private enterprise. (The concept of inviolability of private property rarely applies to the property of the poor.) Mass revolts have broken out, many of them armed. The government has indicated that it will deploy the army to quell them.
Corporations have their own sly strategy to deal with dissent. With a minuscule percentage of their profits they run hospitals, educational institutes and trusts, which in turn fund NGOs, academics, journalists, artists, film-makers, literary festivals and even protest movements. It is a way of using charity to lure opinion-makers into their sphere of influence. Of infiltrating normality, colonising ordinariness, so that challenging them seems as absurd (or as esoteric) as challenging “reality” itself. From here, it’s a quick, easy step to “there is no alternative”.
The Tatas run two of the largest charitable trusts in India. (They donated $50m to that needy institution the Harvard Business School.) The Jindals, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, run the Jindal Global Law School, and will soon open the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. Financed by profits from the software giant Infosys, the New India Foundation gives prizes and fellowships to social scientists.
Having worked out how to manage the government, the opposition, the courts, the media and liberal opinion, what remains to be dealt with is the growing unrest, the threat of “people power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys? The largely middle-class, overtly nationalist anti-corruption movement in India led by Anna Hazare is a good example. A round-the-clock, corporate-sponsored media campaign proclaimed it to be “the voice of the people”. It called for a law that undermined even the remaining dregs of democracy. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, it did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate monopolies or economic “reforms”. Its principal media backers successfully turned the spotlight away from huge corporate corruption scandals and used the public mauling of politicians to call for the further withdrawal of discretionary powers from government, for more reforms and more privatisation.
After two decades of these “reforms” and of phenomenal but jobless growth, India has more malnourished children than anywhere else in the world, and more poor people in eight of its states than 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa put together. And now the international financial crisis is closing in. The growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out.
Capitalism’s real gravediggers, it turns out, are not Marx’s revolutionary proletariat but its own delusional cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. They seem to have difficulty comprehending reality or grasping the science of climate change, which says, quite simply, that capitalism (including the Chinese variety) is destroying the planet.
“Trickle down” failed. Now “gush-up” is in trouble too. As early stars appear in Mumbai’s darkening sky, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appear outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blaze on. Perhaps it is time for the ghosts to come out and play.
The writer is author of ‘The God of Small Things’. Her newest book is ‘Broken Republic’
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
- January 10, 2012 chennai
Arundhati Roy reacts to the objection to her attending the fair organised by The Book Sellers and Publishers Association of South India.
“The protest began when The Cage by Gordon Weiss (former UN spokesperson in Sri Lanka) was released.
The book indicts the Sri Lankan government for war crimes, but is also sharply critical of the LTTE’s tactics. The protestors did not mention the book, but accused the publishers of being RSS, anti-Dalit, anti-Tamil, anti-Kashmir and anti-Muslim.
I was a little puzzled, because the books being released were a collection of haunting poems by Cheran, the well-known Tamil poet, a book on Dalits and Water by Ko. Raghupathy, a book on Dalit politics and culture by Stalin Rajangam, Curfewed Night, a memoir about Kashmir by Basharat Peer and Broken Republic about the Maoist insurrection, by me, all of which completely bely the accusations being hurled at the publisher.
On Facebook the protestors call themselves the May 17th Fighters. (May 17th is the day the war in Sri Lanka officially ended.) It appears that their main objection was Weiss’s criticism of the LTTE.
Whether Weiss is right or wrong in his analysis is not the point. After a war in which an estimated 40,000 Tamils, mostly civilians were killed, I cannot believe that people want to shut out the possibility of debate, of introspection about what went wrong.
It is an insult to the memory of those who were killed as well as to those Tamils who survived and have to continue to live in Sri Lanka.
The annihilation of criticism, introspection, debate, difference of opinion, is the annihilation of politics itself. It is a way of thinking and acting that could have been one of the reasons for the LTTE’s defeat.”
Sunday, 8 January 2012
Writer Arundhati Roy at a book launch function in Chennai on Saturday. Photo: M.Vedhan
Describing most of the anti-corruption movements in the country as right-wing and majoritarian in nature, writer Arundhati Roy on Saturday said the Jan Lokpal Bill, which she said nobody had read, was totally an unGandhian piece of legislation. She alleged that it would concentrate power in the hands of a few.
Ms. Roy, who was here in connection with the release of a Tamil translation of her work Broken Republic published by Kalachuvadu, said a very strong anti-corruption law would always be a tool in the hands of the middle class to take advantage of the poor, who had already been alienated.
She stressed the need to view the anti-corruption movements in the country in the backdrop of the attempt to corporatise people's struggles and to turn people's anger into a blind alley.
Asked for a solution to the Maoist problem in the country, she wanted to know what would be the solution to the Indian government and its Prime Minister and Home Minister openly speaking about violating the Constitution, which she said “does not allow taking away the adivasis' lands and handing them over to corporate houses.”
She also wondered how one could preach to a person on giving up violence and following the Gandhian path when his hut was surrounded by CRPF men and women were raped.
Pointing to various struggles launched by the people across the country including the fight against the Nuclear Power Plant in Kudankulam, she said “to me these battles were somehow more profound than the battle for self-determination and ethnic nationalism.”