Roy v. Abdullah

Written by  //  December 22, 2010  //  National Politics  //  1 Comment

A few months ago we witnessed a national outrage over Arundhati Roy’s opportunistic comments on how Kashmir was allegedly never a part of India. A video of her speech can be accessed here and here.

While the international media and the desi intellectuals pontificated on how Indian democracy had suffered a huge blow because of the mere threat of Roy being charged with sedition, the ladies from the ultra-right decided to trespass onto the premises of her house in a manner which adequately clarified their deeply hostile intent. Roy, through subsequent press-releases tried to emerge from the matter as the intellectual martyr in distress.

What is however interesting to note is the public reaction, or rather lack of it, against a similar statement, although much more nuanced, made by the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mr. Omar Abdullah. In a statement on the floor of the House the young Chief Minister had apparently clarified that Kashmir had acceded to India and had not merged with it and therefore could not be compared to other Indian states such as Junagadh and Hyderabad, both of which were renegade princely states, who were ultimately forcefully co-opted into the Indian Union. The instrument of accession signed by the heads of J&K and India, which is available here, (atleast the first page) when read along with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the tragic U.N. resolutions of 1948, adequately clarifies the political status of Kashmir within the Indian Union.

While the BJP, predictably, trained its guns at Abdullah, for making such a statement, the Chief Minister found support, surprisingly, from 2 Union Cabinet Ministers – the Home Minister – Mr. Chidambaram and the External Affairs Minister Mr. S.M. Krishna, both South Indians, both Harvard educated. Both made public statements in the press, available here and here, argue that Abdullah’s statement had to be viewed in the correct context and that there was nothing quite inappropriate with it.

Now, the import of both statements i.e. by Roy and Abdullah is pretty much the same i.e. they both intended to state that Kashmir never became a part of the Indian Union, except for the fact that Abdullah nuanced his statement in the language of the law and in the process lent it a degree of credibility. Roy on the other hand appeared to be playing to the gallery, by making a nakedly bald statement, filled with rhetoric and with little or no qualification. We therefore have a deliciously paradoxical situation over here where the politician spoke like the intellectual and the intellectual spoke like the politician.

It is also interesting to note that both statements were made within a short time-span of only a few weeks. However, the reactions to both statements are poles apart. Conventional political philosophy would have predicted that the politician would have been lynched while the intellectual, would have at best, been ignored. But clearly the outrage against Roy does beg several questions as to the importance of her role in national debates. Is she over-exposed to multiple causes ranging from big-dams, to Naxalism to Afzal Guru to anti-imperialism and is this over-exposure screwing her credibility to new lows? Has she become larger than the cause itself? Why is it that the debate is always on her and not the cause she claims to represent? Most importantly, has she become a liability to the causes she speaks out in favour of?  I lack answers to most of these questions but I believe the rise and fall of Roy holds important lessons for all future wannabe intellectuals in India. Somebody should learn from Ms. Roy’s mistakes and it’s clearly not going to be her.

One Comment on "Roy v. Abdullah"

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