Arundhati's delayed “what-I-meant-was” leaves much to be clarified
Ashish Mehta | June 4, 2010
Arundhati Roy, our leading public intellectual, has made a rare clarification. She says she never wrote the phrase “Gandhians with a gun”, used to describe Maoists in an essay she wrote for the Outlook in March. The phrase appeared in the sub-headline and Roy says it was written by the magazine. The British newspaper Guardian also carried the same article, under the headline “Gandhi, But With Gun.” Roy could be issuing a similar clarification for the Guardian too.
Addressing a public meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday, Roy reiterated: "I never called them Gandhians with guns. It was a blurb carried by a magazine. What I meant was that they (Naxals) are more Gandhian than any other Gandhian in their consumption pattern...their lifestyle, which is in stark contrast to their violent means of resistance."
We need to react to the clarification since we too had joined the debate (“Arundhati, propagandist with a fat dictionary”). In short:
(1) The Outlook article was published in the March 29 edition, on stands March 22. Roy's clarification, disowning the phrase, comes more than two months later. If she disagreed with the three words, she could have pointed it out much earlier.
(2) It is not exactly clear why she is on the defensive. She has, after all, not disowned that she has termed “the superiority of ‘the non-violent way’” as “ Gandhi’s pious humbug”. Or, making fun of the nonviolent means of resistance like hunger strikes which she had supported and advocated in the past.
(3) Roy is yet to explain what made her change her mind on non-violence. In her several essays (particularly on the Narmada Bachao Andolan), she was all for non-violence, all for Gandhian ways. Once can certainly evolve one's ideology, support Gandhi one day and (say) Narendra Modi the next day, but as a public intellectual, you are expected to explain. You can't be preaching non-violence one day and exhorting them to take up arms the next – without an explanation. That's the one explanation she should have given, instead of blaming her ideological confusion on the Outlook.
In her Mumbai lecture, she explained this much: “Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here.” Violence, on the other hand, has a ready audience, which according to Roy is the sole decider in things like this. Sad.
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