Business, Economics and Jobs

TomJoad: Arundhati Roy in 800 words

I've been hard on her in the past, but Arundhati Roy has something to say, her cover story in this week's Outlook magazine proves. The only problem is that the audience that most needs to hear it is too busy with their electronic gadgets and investment portfolios to read 6,000 words or whatever – even if they don't work any harder than the activist types.

Here, therefore, is the Cliff Notes version. Arundhati Roy in 800 words. A blasting critique of capitalism for the busy tycoon, as it were:

(1) In the new India, all property is indeed theft:

“In India, the land of millions of people is being acquired and made over to private corporations for “public interest”—for Special Economic Zones, infrastructure projects, dams, highways, car manufacture, chemical hubs and Formula One racing.”

“Today any talk of redistribution of land or wealth would be considered not just undemocratic, but lunatic. Even the most militant movements have been reduced to a fight to hold on to what little land people still have.”

(2) When regular theft doesn't work, the new India declares war:

“In 2005, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with a number of private corporations turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance.”

Soon after, “the prime minister announced the Maoists [fighting the mines] were the 'single-largest security challenge in India'. It was a declaration of war.”

Some 200,000 paramilitary troops were deployed across Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. But even though the government still insists that the ideas of the Maoists are ludicrous and outdated, the state forces haven't been able to crush the movement.

(3) The upside of war is that it occasionally makes news.

“We hear about the ecological and social re-engineering of Central India only because of the mass insurrection and the war. The government gives out no information. The Memorandums of Understanding are all secret. Some sections of the media have done what they could to bring public attention to what is happening in Central India.”

“However, most of the Indian mass media is made vulnerable by the fact that the major share of its revenues come from corporate advertisements. If that is not bad enough, now the line between the media and big business has begun to blur dangerously.”

“As we have seen, RIL virtually owns 27 TV channels. But the reverse is also true. Some media houses now have direct business and corporate interests. For example, one of the major daily newspapers in the region—Dainik Bhaskar (and it is only one example)—has 17.5 million readers in four languages, including English and Hindi, across 13 states. It also owns 69 companies with interests in mining, power generation, real estate and textiles. A recent writ petition filed in the Chhattisgarh High Court accuses DB Power Ltd (one of the group’s companies) of using “deliberate, illegal and manipulative measures” through company-owned newspapers to influence the outcome of a public hearing over an open cast coal mine.”

There's a lot more meat on the bone, if you happen to be reading this on your iPad while waiting for a flight. (Outlook has an App).  And if you're on one of those entertainment-challenged Air India birds bound for the US, you have a good chance of making it all the way to the end. 

Seriously, you should read it. Just skim past the beginning rant on Mukesh Ambani's house and other tired subjects.