It is the sad demise of love and gentleness -- at the behest of skewed patriotism and extreme nationalism -- that comes across as the most troubling feature of current times for writer-activist Arundhati Roy.
The very fundamentals of the country, she contended in an interview to IANS, are being broken down even as a "parallel state" has come to function alongside the ruling regime. The motive? "An ideological preparation to change the constitution".
"There's an aahat which I think many people are not hearing and something that is being very seriously silenced is that we are living in a situation in which your entire attention has to go on criminal emergencies -- who is being lynched, who is being killed and so on -- you don't realise that behind each of those things, there's a huge amount of fear and terror and huge communities are being pushed into these. I don't think people in Urban India are aware of the agrarian crisis and the extent of it," Roy said.
Maintaining that "I don't think the country has ever been in a situation like this," she elaborated at length on why it is no longer the same story where one said that even the Congress party had done the same things when they were in power. "Woh sab (the wrongs of previous regimes) hai but right now, there's an ideological preparation to change the constitution," she said.
"It is not just about who is in the government but also about the Deep State -- the inchangables: the judiciary, bureaucracy, universities, Intelligence Bureau and so on -- all of this is being peopled by people in the majority community (if there's such a thing as a majority community, I think we are a land of minorities) what they don't understand is that this is going to push us back into the space that we were not hoping to be in. Everybody is being pushed into a hole," she said.
"When I talk of deep state I am referring to powers that don't change with elections. Who toh rehte hain. So even if they lose the election, they are seeping down the cellular levels. RSS, of course, is a different matter. It is not the Deep State, it is the Parallel State," maintained Roy.
She also said that "the IQ level has dropped a lot in this government" and there is "a chilling effect on people" when they read about Justice Loya or Sohrabuddin cases.
"You see what is going on in the Supreme Court and at once you sense the fear in the media. What happens is that even bureaucrats are frightened, ministers are frightened. You are taking away the initiative of everybody, every decision cannot be taken by two people. But people are scared to take decisions, they are scared even to say anything. So what you are seeing is not something being ripped out, actually every knot is being untied. So you will only get a handful of threads in the end. That is very terrifying," she contended.
"What I truly fear is that there is a sense this year that the tide is changing and there is a panic among the BJP and the RSS, so they will do everything they can to re-polarise. We are waiting for the Ayodhya judgement from the Supreme Court. Whatever happens, it will be used to tear people apart. No matter what the court says, the verdict is going to be used to tear people apart. And the timing of the judgement is so vital to the elections that it terrifies me," she added. She also said that "there could be limited war" to suit the election mood.
"They are going to try and cover the noise of communal polarisation this year. I don't know whether they will succeed but that bugle has already been sounded," Roy added.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes in 2017, she said that it was the "most authoritarian and undemocratic thing to do, as we know a currency is a social contract between the state and its people."
"Then you force people to put their money in the bank and then these people are running away with thousands of crores. I am sure Nirav Modi just won the non-performing assets. All that money has been given to corporates who don't pay it back, who, it seems, are not even required to pay it back. So I don't think we fully understand the times we are in. Even on the surface you are seeing the cracks but underneath that surface, things are much much more on the edge of collapse.
The actions of the ruling regime, according to Roy, can only be watched with a great deal of happiness by people who don't wish the country well. "Because they are seeing it weakening and coming apart, not from the top but the very foundations are being removed. The institutions of democracy are being undermined," she maintained.
And as for her, and the "anti-national" tag labelled against her, she said: "To say that somebody who critiques injustice, who argues with policy, who looks at the way the poorest people or the most defenseless are being squashed is an anti-national, tells you what their idea of their nationalism is.
"What we miss here (in these times) is any sense of fellow feeling, you miss politicians and bureaucrats speaking with real concern or love. Everyone just wants to hammer people with something on their heads. I don't sense kindness and love even in their talks, towards anyone -- even the children dying in the hospitals," she regretted.
Roy, who rose to global fame as the new deity of prose in 1997 after bagging the most prestigious literary honour The Booker Prize for "The God Of Small Things" has always been vocal about her views on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) but it seems that, of late, she has maintained a low-profile and tried to stay away from controversies.
Breaking this pause, Roy may well be at the centre of things again as she is scheduled to participate in a discussion titled "Waqt Ki Aahat" on Wednesday to mark the 69th foundation day of Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh, which has published five translations of her books in Hindi and will also be publishing the Hindi translation of her latest book "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness".
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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