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Arundhati Roy Interviewed

By Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

20 May, 2004
Democracy Now!

Full transcript and audio online at:

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arundhati.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Thank you, Amy

AMY GOODMAN: It's very good to have you with us. Can you explain what is
happening right now in India? Were you surprised by the victory of the
Congress party, and then the rejection by Sonia Gandhi of the prime

ARUNDHATI ROY: I think many people were surprised by the victory of the
Congress, because it was really hard to see beyond the sort of haze of
hatred that the Hindu nationalists had been spreading. One wasn't sure
whether the people would be blinded by that -- and they had been just a few
months ago in a local assembly elections in Gujarat -- or whether the real
issues of absolute poverty and absolute [separation] from the land and water
resources would be the big issues. A lot of us, when the results came out
were -- leaving aside one's cynicism about mainstream politics -- thought it
couldn't have been a better result. The Congress party sort of shackled to
the left parties in a coalition which would make them a pretty formidable
opposition to the B.J.P. But subsequently, what has happened has been
actually fascinating because you can just see the forces at play, both
internationally and nationally, so blatantly, just so blatantly that, you
know, just in order to understand what's going on, it's been a fascinating
few days.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the differences between the B.J.P., which has been defeated, and the Congress party? I understand that you have just returned from the house of the man who we believe will replace Sonia Gandhi since she has turned down the prime ministership.

ARUNDHATI ROY: No, no, no not returned, but I was in the market and to come back home I had to drive past all of the politicians' houses, and I could
see all the crowds outside and the television cameras and so on. I have no
access to them in that sense, but, well the fundamental difference between
the Congress and the BJP is that one is an overtly fascist party, proudly
fascist. It doesn't feel bad if you call it that. The culture to which the
BJP's big leaders subscribe to, which is the RSS, openly admires Hitler.

The Congress -- I mean, obviously, the way it has happened is that the
Congress has historically played covert communal politics in order to create
what in India we call vote banks where you pit one community against another
and so on in order to secure votes. So, somehow the BJP is the horrible
specter that has emerged from the legacy of the Congress party. You know,
you begin to realize that hypocrisy is not a terrible thing when you see
what overt fascism is compared to sort of covert, you know, communal
politics which the Congress has never been shy of indulging in.

Economically, again, it's the same thing. You know, the Congress really was
the party that opened India up to the whole neo-liberal regime. But the BJP
has come in and taken it much further, to absurd levels. Today, we have a
situation in which 40% of rural India has food absorption levels lower than
sub-Saharan Africa. You have the biggest rural income divide ever seen in
history. You have millions of tons of food grain rotting in government
pogroms while starvation deaths are announced all over. You have the W.T.O.
regime making it possible for the government to import food grain and milk
and sugar and all of these things while Indian farmers are committing
suicide not in the hundreds now, but the figures have moved into the
thousands. And you have a middle class which is glittering, which is
happy... I just wrote a piece about how corporate globalization and this
kind of Hindu nationalism, communal fascism are so linked. If you see what
has happened after the elections, after the people of India made it clear
that their mandate was against communalism, their mandate was against
economic reforms. Even in state governments where the Congress party had
instituted these reforms, the Congress was also overthrown. It wasn't a vote
for Sonia Gandhi or a vote for the congress, it was a vote against very
serious issues.

What has happened is that as soon as the election results were announced,
the BJP, the hard-right wing members of the BJP and its goon squads started
saying we'll shave our heads. We'll eat green gram and make a revolution in
this country against this foreign woman on the one hand, and on the other
hand, equally hard core corporate groups were acting -- they were out on the
streets. They were yelling like fundamentalists would, and all of these
corporate television channels had split screens where on the one hand, you
saw what is happening in Sonia Gandhi's house and on the other half, you
just had what the stockbrokers are saying. And the whole of the one billion
people who had voted had just been forgotten. They had been given their
photo opportunity, their journeys on elephant back and camel and whatever it
was to the election booth. Now they were just forgotten. The only comments
you get are what the industrialists think... and what the centrists think
about Sonia Gandhi. It is an absolutely absurd kind of blackmail by fascists
on the one hand and corporate fascists on the other.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Arundhati Roy, speaking to us from Delhi. She recently wrote a piece in The Guardian of Britain, ³Let Us Hope that the
Darkness has Passed and the Veil of the Virtual Worlds has Collided in a
Humiliation of Power.² On the issue of Sonia Gandhi and why she is stepping
down, what this means, do you think it is significant at all?

ARUNDHATI ROY: I think there was a real dilemma there. All of us are so used to being cynical and reading meaning into meanings. But she was faced with a party and with a climate and people at the helm of the BJP, who we know now are capable of going to any extreme -- as we saw what happened in Gujarat two years ago when they openly supported a pogrom in which 2,000 Muslims were massacred on the streets, and not a single person has been brought to book or punished. I think she was aware of the fact that this kind of
vilification and this kind of chauvinism is in the air. It could have
resulted in a situation where a new government comes in and all it's doing
is firefighting on a non-issue, on whether Sonia Gandhi is a foreigner or
whether she should be there or not there. Whereas, in fact, there are so
many really pressing issues that need to be looked at. So, I think that
there was a real dilemma there, and perhaps strategically it has taken the
wind out of the BJP's sails and has exposed them for being absolutely
uncaring for a massive mandate. If you look at all of the secular and left
parties together, it's 320 seats, which is a huge majority.

AMY GOODMAN: As we return to Arundhati Roy in India, as she reports on
what's happening there with the elections that have routed out the B.J.P.
party. Arundhati, as you listen to this report of the Israeli helicopter gun
ships firing into the crowd of thousands [in Rafah in Gaza], a number of
people are dead, and it's certainly an issue you have followed as well as
what you're hearing about what's happening in Iraq, could you share your

ARUNDHATI ROY: It's just that you have to sometimes you have come to a
stage where you almost have to work on yourself. You know, on finding some
tranquility with which to respond to these things, because I realize that
the biggest risk that many of us run is beginning to get inured to the
horrors. Next time around, only if it is ratcheted up, will it get our
attention? I have always maintained that it's very, very important to
understand that war is the result of a flawed peace, and we must understand
the systems that are at work here. You know, we must understand that the
resistance movement in Iraq is a resistance movement that all of us have to
support, because it's our war, too. And it will not do for them to call
people terrorists and thugs and all of that. That time is over now. The fact
is that America¹s weapons systems have made it impossible for anybody to
confront it militarily. So, all you have is your wits and your cunning, and
your ability to fight in the way the Iraqis are fighting. You see that
system. You see Iraq as the culmination of a system, and you see how hard
that system is pushing even here. You can see the clear links between what's
happening in the Indian elections and this whole global economy and how it's
suffocating the breath out of the body of poor people.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with Arundhati Roy in India. We have also gotten these reports of some Indian workers who were working for a western
contractor in Iraq, who alleged that they were kept there against their
will, hardly being paid. It was a report that was first reported in the
Hindu and then followed up in this country, a group of 20 Indians who ran
away from a U.S. Military camp in Iraq where they worked in the kitchen
claiming they had been abused for nine months. Is this a story that you have
been following? They have returned, I believe, now, to India.

ARUNDHATI ROY: They are all people from Kerala which is where I come from, you know, and apparently, these kind of job contractors took them to Kuwait, pretending that they had got them work there. A lot of people from Kerala work in the Middle East. And then they were put on a bus basically and they realized they were in Baghdad before they knew it. So, I think, you know, this is the bottom end of the privatization of war. Torture has been
privatized now, so you have obviously the whole scandal in America about the
abuse of prisoners and the fact that, army people might be made to pay a
price, but who are the privatized torturers accountable too? Eventually, you
have a situation also in which -- as it becomes more and more obvious to the
American government that when American soldiers die on the battlefield,
pressure goes up at home. so they're going to try to hire other soldiers to
do their work for them. You know, they're going to try to hire poor people
from poor countries who would be willing to do it. I'm sure they're going to
try that. They're trying that already, trying to get, of course, the Indian
army and so on in -- we know Hamid Karzai's securities are all privatized. I
think it's a nightmare and ultimately, terrorism, in way, is a privatization
of war. It's the belief that it's not only states that can wage war, why not
private people? Why not have your nuclear bombs in your briefcase? All of
these policies that America upholds, nuclear weapons, privatization, all of
these things are going to mutate and metamorphosis into these dangerous

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for joining us from New Delhi, India.

Arundhati Roy, the author and activist. Her book is coming out this summer"The Ordinary Person's Guy to Empire." This is Democracy Now!.






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