Arundhati Roy Replies…At no point have I called the Maoists ‘Gandhians with Guns’… Honestly, I am almost embarrassed to have to write this letter.


This is with reference to the Outlook cover (May 31) which says “Arundhati Roy’s portrayal of Maoists as Gandhians with Guns comes under heavy fire”.

I’m used to taking heavy fire for what I write. But when people begin to fire at a target they have fashioned for themselves out of an Outlook copywriter’s blurb (later mirrored in the Guardian magazine), I suppose I must rouse myself to make a clarification. At no point in my essay Walking with the Comrades (Mar 29) have I called the Maoists ‘Gandhians with Guns’. Here is what I said:

“I cannot believe this army. As far as consumption goes, it’s more Gandhian than any Gandhian, and has a lighter carbon footprint than any climate change evangelist. But for now, it even has a Gandhian approach to sabotage; before a police vehicle is burnt for example, it is stripped down and every part is cannibalised. The steering wheel is straightened out and made into a bharmaar barrel, the rexine upholstery stripped and used for ammunition pouches, the battery for solar charging. (The new instructions from the high command are that captured vehicles should be buried and not cremated. So they can be resurrected when needed.) Should I write a play I wonder—Gandhi Get Your Gun? Or will I be lynched?”

Whoever infers from this that I have called the Maoists Gandhians with Guns is either a little slow or has no sense of irony or both. Do I really have to spell out what I was alluding to—of Maoist guerrillas who combine Gandhi’s principles of spartan consumption with their own very un-Gandhian belief in sabotage and armed revolution? Perhaps the confusion arises because the Indian elite would love to prescribe the opposite: conspicuous consumption for the rich and non-violent satyagraha for the poor.

The only other reference to Gandhi in the essay is in two paragraphs reproduced below, parts of which are quoted selectively by people who say that I have been uncritical of the Maoists and have valorised Charu Mazumdar as a “visionary” while criticising Gandhi. Here it is:

“Chairman Mao. He’s here too. A little lonely, perhaps, but present. There’s a photograph of him, up on a red cloth screen. Marx too. And Charu Mazumdar, the founder and chief theoretician of the Naxalite movement. His abrasive rhetoric fetishises violence, blood and martyrdom, and often employs a language so coarse as to be almost genocidal. Standing here, on Bhumkal day, I can’t help thinking that his analysis, so vital to the structure of this revolution, is so removed from its emotion and texture. When he said that only ‘an annihilation campaign’ could produce ‘the new man who will defy death and be free from all thought of self-interest’—could he have imagined that this ancient people, dancing into the night, would be the ones on whose shoulders his dreams would come to rest?

“It’s a great disservice to everything that is happening here that the only thing that seems to make it to the outside world is the stiff, unbending rhetoric of the ideologues of a party that has evolved from a problematic past. When Charu Mazumdar famously said, ‘China’s Chairman is our Chairman and China’s Path is Our Path’, he was prepared to extend it to the point where the Naxalites remained silent while General Yahya Khan committed genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), because at the time, China was an ally of Pakistan. There was silence too, over the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields in Cambodia. There was silence over the egregious excesses of the Chinese and Russian revolutions. Silence over Tibet. Within the Naxalite movement too, there have been violent excesses and it’s impossible to defend much of what they’ve done. But can anything they have done compare with the sordid achievements of the Congress and the bjp in Punjab, Kashmir, Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat…. And yet, despite these terrifying contradictions, Charu Mazumdar was a visionary in much of what he wrote and said. The party he founded (and its many splinter groups) has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream. For that alone we cannot judge him too harshly. Especially not while we swaddle ourselves with Gandhi’s pious humbug about the superiority of ‘the non-violent way’ and his notion of Trusteeship: ‘The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the good of society.’”

Does this sound as though I’m calling Maoists ‘Gandhians with Guns’? Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to have to write this letter.

Posted via web from Street_Visuals

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