Book review: Broken republic - of mammon and militias

Comprising of three essays, Broken Republic is a journey.


Zarrar Khuhro August 16, 2011

“We listen to a recording of Iqbal Bano singing Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (We will Witness the Day) at the famous concert in Lahore at the height of the repression during the Ziaul Haq years. Fifty thousand people in the audience in that Pakistan begin a defiant chant: Inqilab Zindabad! Inqilab Zindabad! All these years later, that chant reverberates around this forest. Strange, the alliances that get made.”

Alliances are exactly what Broken Republic is all about, notably the alliance between the Indian political and media establishment and the corporate interests that are pushing for the ‘development’ of the unspoiled wilderness that is home to so many native tribes. These are the same tribes that are then labeled ‘Maoists’ and ‘security threats’ when they stand up for their rights in the face of a powerful political-industrial complex.

Comprising of three essays, Broken Republic is a journey. A journey that begins in the urban centres of India, in the capital of New Delhi, which had so recently been scrubbed clean for the commonwealth games — its underclass considered an eyesore for the visiting foreigners. The same underclass that Roy claims has been pushed into the cities as a result of urbanisation policies.

From there we travel to the Maoist heartland itself, to the people Indian home minister P Chidambaram called ‘the single biggest internal security challenge’ faced by India. With her trademark scalpel-sharp wit and insight, Roy deconstructs the ‘Maoist menace’, exposing the doublespeak, lies and duplicity that hid behind that now-famous statement.

We travel to Pakistan on the outskirts of the Dandakaranya forest, which marks the beginning of Maoists territories and where the police ‘shoot to kill’. Corrupt police, oppressed villagers and dedicated but outgunned guerillas are the cast that populate the second essay “Walking with the Comrades”. Of the three essays, this is the one that truly stands out, with the characters coming to life on the pages. Notable among them is the ‘candid’ SP who provides one of the best quotes in the book, saying, “The problem with these tribals is that they don’t understand greed. Unless they become greedy there’s no hope for us.”

The final essay, “Trickledown Revolution” is an argument for a system that can accept dissent and the right of people to live the way they choose and holds out the comforting thought that there can be hope even in the midst of violence and greed.

In reading Arundhati Roy, one must realise that this is not journalism of the ‘some say, yet others disagree’ variety. Reading Roy is almost like watching a Michael Moore film, minus the showmanship and cute cutscenes. Before the lynch mobs come out in force, let me clarify: with both Roy and Moore, you know exactly where their loyalties lie. Not for them is the balanced statement or the objective analysis. In this battle of alliances and ideas we know exactly where Roy stands and we know, as does Roy herself, that her stance is proudly and unashamedly partisan. And we love her for it.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 14th, 2011.

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