“An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire” by Arundhati Roy

First and foremost, I have an issue with the title of the book: An ordinary person in the Indian Subcontinent can’t afford a book costing Rs. 395; an ordinary person in the Indian Subcontinent can’t read English like a native language; and an ordinary person in the Indian Subcontinent won’t read the essays till they are presented in some popular media, not book. Until the essays are translated in vernacular languages, priced cheaply (or free), and distributed profusely, this book is very much for the elite. Since the above is not possible, the book, as a product, is antithesis to its contents, but, this doesn’t take anything away from the validity of the ideas presented in the book

In her essays, Arundhati Roy, along with presenting numerous facts, opinions and hypotheses, has also presented some solutions, and that is what interested me the most. For long, I have been pondering over the role of these peculiar creatures who adorn themselves with the garland of thorns and call themselves ACTIVISTS. Though I always had a positive perspective on their role, but the kind of magnanimous authority Arundhati Roy has retained for them is just magnificent. If what has been stated in the essays is possible without turning the activists into the better clones of the politicians, then hats off to her magic trick. She has envisaged the role of activists as that of a shadow government that wouldn’t let anything happen against the people. Obviously, the activists can’t themselves become politicians. This is definitely an interesting solution, but with a problem that money is known to corrupt people, and, as per the present system, there are a number of interest groups, including the Government, who benefit from and are interested in the corruption of the masses as it makes their task easier, and the money is available in plenty to them for extending their agenda. Now, in such a scenario, how will the “genuine morality” counter the power of money? The activists, if they don’t want to get corrupt, can’t use anything except logic for challenging the reigning KING. Unfortunately, the logic doesn’t even allow “GOD”, not even “The GOD of Small Things.” If the things have to change, the activists should certainly prosper, but do they have a strategy?

Yes, I very much agree with Arundhati Roy when she says that the solution can’t be found without women and do think that the things need to change, if nothing else than for the better good of women themselves. If women want to save themselves from the imminent danger of the neo-liberal society, they definitely need to take active part, or, in other words, become activists. Arundhati Roy has not focused her attention on the prevailing danger of the neo-liberal society/corporate globalization on the status of women. I have a feeling it already is extremely detrimental to women and is going to be more so in the future. I wish Arundhati Roy had also centered her attention on this issue. Nevertheless, Arundhati Roy’s essays are extremely revolutionary and are definitely something more than an interesting read.

Comment dt. 09.04.2011

I have been closely watching the agitation of Anna Hazaare and other activists, both on and off the television. It mainly started with Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal. Around the same time, the corporates, etc, wrote a letter to PM demanding the passage of a Lokpal Bill at the earliest. I think the corporates actually wanted a Lokpal because they ended up wasting lots of time in getting A. Raja behind bars. I can’t comment about the culpability of A. Raja because the matters is subjudice. Nonetheless, I have learned that many corporates, including Nira Radia, have been presented by the CBI in the list of witnesses in A. Raja’s case. So, the message is clear: A. Raja has done something anti to the strategy of the corporates. Of course, the BJP, and even the left, have provided political support to the corporates.

The problem with the Congress government is that it listens a bit too much to the corporates. It announced the introduction of Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session and also drafted a bill. The bill was toothless, and this time the activists were ready. They had drafted their own bill. Now, the activists played a game. They realized that this is the right time to hit the nail. The assembly elections are just round the corner, and the Congress could have ill-afforded another agitation at this time, that too an agitation which has grown so much in the cities.

But, here comes the golden question: Why this agitation has become such a great success? Of course, it is not because of Anna Hazaare. The fact is that the BJP cadre have worked day and night to make this agitation a success. Small business, lawyers, local leaders, etc, affiliated to the BJP have prodded people to support this agitation. At the same time, the corporate media, including the FM channels, the social networking entrepreneurs and the celebrities have created a sort of euphoria in favour of the agitation.

I am not sure whether the activists have acted in consort with the corporates and the BJP, but, whatever, the activists have acted most irresponsibly. They have played politics, with which I have no problems, but my problem is that while playing politics they have not acted in self-interest, not public interest. Corruption is a much bigger menace; no superman can solve it. For example, a person requesting information under the RTI Act can’t get the information unless he pays bribe. If he doesn’t the following may happen for which the Lokpal Bill has no solutions: – The letter requesting fees for copying the pages will be entered in the dispatch register but will never be dispatched, but only a blank envelope will be dispatched.
– The dealing assistant will speak to you most rudely and make you wait for hours before giving you a hearing. After a lapse of 2-3 hours, he will inform you that your letter requesting fees has been dispatched, and he can’t help you without the copy of the letter. You will request for a photostat copy of the office copy, for which the dealing assistant will have to locate the peon to get the photocopy done, who will appear after a delay of another 1 hour.
– The peon will fail to get the copy done because the photocopy machine will be out of order.
– You will approach the officer-in-charge, who will not be on his seat; if fortunately he is available, he will ask you to file a formal complaint.
– You are adamant, so you file a formal complaint and go back home.
– The mandatory period for receiving the information has elapsed, but there is no action on your complaint and you have also not received the copy of the letter requesting fees, so now you file an appeal.
– The appeal is dismissed as you have not paid the fees as per rules.
– You file second appeal in the CIC.
– Your appeal is heard after an year. The commissioner starts getting agitated with the confusion in your case and passes a negative order upholding the decision of the First Appellate Authority. BTW, his order is in accordance with law because you have not paid the fees, and, as per the records, the letter requesting fees has been dispatched. 
– You go to the High Court under article 226 of the Constitution. In the High Court, the single bench, as well as the. division bench, dismisses your petition finding no case having been made out for the non-exercise of jurisdiction by the CIC.
– You file an SLP in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court refuses to entertain your petition because the order of the High Court is not erroneous.

I wonder what can a Lokpal do to solve the above problem. A Lokpal can only help the corporates and the other rich people to send the A. Rajas behind bars. No common man may ever approach a Lokpal. Thankfully, the above-stated is not happening as of now, but even the worst may start happening if the Jan Lokpal Bill in its present form is passed. The RTI Act is working only because the bureaucrats are making it work deliberatily, not frighteningly. Somewhere, the bureaucrats are also wary of the politicians; the RTI Act gives them an excuse to say no to the politicians, and the RTI activists like Arvind Kejriwal need to understand this. Ditto for other things.

I am sorry to say that the present agitation of Anna Hazaare is making me believe that the activists are becoming the better clones of the politicians, especially because even Medha Patkar is supporting this agitation. I only hope that the activists have been fooled, and they did not act in consort with the BJP and the corporates.

©2008-2011 Ankur Mutreja

About the Author

Ankur Mutreja
Ankur Mutreja is an advocate-cum-writer, and his blogs are amongst his modes of expression. He has also authored six books: "Kerala Hugged"; "Light: Philosophy"; "Flare: Opinions"; "Sparks: Satire and Reviews"; "Writings @ Ankur Mutreja"; and "Nine Poems"; which can be downloaded free from the links on the top menu.

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