Principled Fighters for Justice Must Stick to Their Guns
By Arundhati Roy
The following comment by Ms. Roy was in response to a question posed by the International Socialist Review (ISR) about the U.S. elections, and was posted on the Internet.
ISR: I think a lot of people here have on their minds the November 2 election and what to do, who to vote for. Tariq Ali, who is very critical of Kerry, recently said, “If the American population were to vote Bush out of office, it would have a tremendous impact on world opinion. Our option at the moment is limited. Do we defeat a warmonger government or not?” What do you think of Ali’s perspective?
Arundhati Roy: Look, it’s a very complicated and difficult debate, in which I think there are two things you can do: you can act expediently, if you like, but you must speak on principle. I cannot sit here with any kind of honesty and say to you that I support Kerry. I cannot do that.
I’ll tell you a small example. In India, you may or may not be aware of the levels of violence and jingoism and fascism that we’ve faced over the last five years. In Gujarat, rampaging mobs murdered, raped, gang-raped, burnt alive 2,000 Muslims on the streets, drove 150,000 out of their homes. And you have this kind of plague of Hindu fascism spreading. And you had a central government that was supported by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party (India)].
A lot of the people who I work with now work in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, where there was a Congress state government for ten years. This government had overseen the building of many dams in the Narmada valley. It had overseen the privatization of electricity, of water, the driving out from their homes and lands of hundreds of thousands of people, the disconnection of single-point electricity connections because they signed these huge contracts for privatization with the Asian Development Bank.
The activists in these areas knew that a lot of the reason that Congress was also so boldly doing these things was they were saying, “What option do you have? Do you want to get the BJP? Are you going to campaign for the BJP? Are you going to open yourself up not just to being physically beaten but maybe even killed?” But I want to tell you that they didn’t campaign for the Congress. They didn’t. They just said, “We do not believe in this, and we are going to continue to do our work outside.”
It was just a horrendous situation, because the BJP was pretending to be “anti-reform,” saying, “We’ll stop this, we’ll change that.” They did come to power, the BJP, and within ten days they were on the dam site saying, “We are going to build the dam.”
So people are waiting for their houses to get submerged. This was the dilemma. The point is, then, you have to say, “Look, can you actually campaign for a man who is saying that I’m going to send more troops to Iraq?” How?
So I think it’s very important for us to remain principled. Let me tell you that during the Indian elections, people used to keep asking me, “Aren’t you campaigning for the Congress?” Because, of course, I had spent the last five years denouncing the BJP. I said, “How can I campaign for the Congress that also oversaw the carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, that opened the markets to neoliberalism in the early 1990s?” And every time, you’re put under this pressure. I said, “I feel sometimes when I’m asked this question like I imagine what a gay person must feel when they’re watching straight sex: I’m sort of interested but not involved.”
I think it’s very important for us to understand that we are people of principle and we are soldiers who are fighting a different battle, and we cannot be co-opted into this. So you’ve got to refuse the terms of this debate; otherwise you’re co-opted. I’m not going to say who you should vote for. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to vote for this one or vote for that one, because all of us here are people of influence and power, and we can’t allow our power to be co-opted by those people. We cannot.
—International Socialist Review, October 30, 2004