Arundhati Roy is a powerful writer and while I disagree with many of her political stances, I have always admired her for her passion and her courage. In this highly readable interview, her comments on the Taslima Nasreen fiasco and the related issue of free speech are bang on the money.
Freedom of expression has always been a second-rate right in India. It has been curtailed with impunity by the government, brazenly violated by the fundamentalists and occasionally clamped down upon by the courts. In the specific instance of Ms. Nasreen, the actions of the government- both at the centre and the state – have been cowardly and unprincipled. The Bengal government, in particular, ought to be ashamed that it has allowed itself to be taken hostage by the same fundamentalist forces that it opposes elsewehere. But then, courage and consistency have never been the hallmarks of politicians.
On a more personal note, I am particularly disappointed at the stand taken on this issue by the Chief Minister of Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, himself a poet and scholar. He has in the past often been accused of arrogance and heavy-handedness, most notably in the brutal and highly mismanaged takeover of Nandigram. Like all Left politicians he has scant regard for property rights when it conflicts withn the aims of the state. However, no sensible person or Mamata Bannerjee has ever accused him of corruption or playing dirty games. I have admired him in the past for his policies which have led to an economic renaissance in Bengal as well as for many of his qualities, principal among which were his honesty and his lack of deceit. In short I saw him as what one would call a straight person, a rarity among Indian lawmakers. Yet, I simply cannot reconcile these qualities with some of his recent actions and statements on the Nandigram and Taslima issues. That’s sad.
But perhaps it was naive to expect better.