Everything is broken

In its desire to become a superpower, India is rushing towards tyranny. Real power now lies with a c

The law locks up the hapless felon
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

Anonymous, England, 1821

In the early morning hours of 2 July 2010, in the remote forests of Adilabad, the Andhra Pradesh State police fired a bullet into the chest of a man named Cherukuri Rajkumar, known to his comrades as Azad. Azad was a member of the politburo of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and had been nominated by his party as its chief negotiator for the proposed peace talks with the government of India. Why did the police fire at point-blank range and leave those tell-tale burn marks, when they could so easily have covered their tracks? Was it a mistake or was it a message?

They killed a second person that morning – Hem Chandra Pandey, a young journalist who was travelling with Azad when he was apprehended. Why did they kill him? Was it to make sure no eyewitness remained alive to tell the tale? Or was it just whimsy?

In the course of a war, if, in the preliminary stages of a peace negotiation, one side executes the envoy of the other side, it is reasonable to assume that the side that did the killing does not want peace. It looks very much as though Azad was killed because someone decided that the stakes were too high to allow him to remain alive.

That decision could turn out to be a grave error of judgement – not just because of who he was, but because of the political climate in India today.

Trickle-down Revolution

Days after I emerged recently from the Danda­karanya forest in central India, where I had spent two and a half weeks with the Maoist guerrillas, I found myself charting a weary but familiar course to Jantar Mantar, on Parliament Street in New Delhi. Jantar Mantar is an old observatory built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. In those days it was a scientific marvel, used to tell the time, predict the weather and study the planets. Today it's a not-so-hot tourist attraction that doubles up as Delhi's little showroom for democracy.

For some years now, protests – unless they are patronised by political parties or religious organisations – have been banned in Delhi. The Boat Club on Rajpath, which has in the past been the site of huge, historic rallies that sometimes lasted for days, is out of bounds for political activity now, and is available for picnics, balloon-sellers and boat-rides only. As for India Gate, candlelight vigils and boutique protests for middle-class causes – such as "Justice for Jessica", the model who was killed in a Delhi bar by a thug with political connections – are allowed, but nothing more. Section 144, an old law that bans the gathering of more than five people – who have "a common object which is unlawful" – in a public place, has been clamped on the city.

The law is part of the penal code passed by the British in 1861 to prevent a repeat of the 1857 Mutiny. It was meant to be an emergency measure, but has become a permanent fixture in many parts of India. Perhaps it was in gratitude for laws like these that our prime minister, accepting an honorary degree from Oxford, thanked the British for bequeathing us such a rich legacy. "Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police," he said, "are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration, and they have served the country well."

Jantar Mantar is the only place in Delhi where Section 144 applies but is not enforced. People from all over the country, fed up with being ignored by the political establishment and the media, converge there, desperately hoping for a hearing. Some take long train journeys. Some, like the victims of the Bhopal gas leak, have walked for weeks, all the way to Delhi. Though the protesters had to fight each other for the best spot on the burning (or freezing) pavement, until recently they were allowed to camp in Jantar Mantar for as long as they liked – weeks, months, even years.

Under the malevolent gaze of the police and the Special Branch, they would put up their faded shamianas and banners. From here they declared their faith in democracy by issuing their memorandums, announcing their protest plans and staging their indefinite hunger strikes. From here they tried to march on parliament (but never succeeded). From here they hoped.

Of late, however, democracy's timings have been changed. It's strictly office hours now, nine to five. No matter from how far people have come, no matter if they have no shelter in the city – if they don't leave by 6pm they are forcibly dispersed, by the police if necessary, with batons and water cannon if things get out of hand. The new timings were ostensibly instituted to make sure that the 2010 Commonwealth Games that New Delhi is hosting go smoothly. But nobody is expecting the old timings back any time soon. Maybe it's in the fitness of things that what is left of our democracy should be traded in for an event that was created to celebrate the British Empire. Perhaps it's only right that 400,000 people should have had their homes demolished and been driven out of the city overnight. Or that hundreds of thousands of roadside vendors should have had their livelihoods snatched away by order of the Supreme Court so city malls could take over their share of business. And that tens of thousands of beggars should have been shipped out of the city while more than a hundred thousand galley slaves were shipped in to build the flyovers, metro tunnels, Olympic-sized swimming pools, warm-up stadiums and luxury housing for athletes.

The Old Empire may not exist. But obviously our tradition of servility has become too profitable an enterprise to dismantle. I was at Jantar Mantar because a thousand pavement-dwellers from cities all over the country had come to demand a few fundamental rights: the right to shelter, to food (ration cards), to life (protection from police brutality and criminal extortion by municipal officers).

It was early spring. The sun was sharp, but still civilised. This is a terrible thing to have to say, but it's true – you could smell the protest from a fair distance: it was the accumulated odour of a thousand human bodies that had been dehumanised, denied the basic necessities for human (or even animal) health and hygiene for years, if not a whole lifetime. Bodies that had been marinated in the refuse of our big cities, bodies that had no shelter from the harsh weather, no access to clean water, clean air, sanitation or medical care. No part of this great country, none of the supposedly progressive schemes, no single urban institution has been designed to accommodate them. Not even the sewage system – they shit on top of it. They are shadow people, who live in the cracks that run between schemes and institutions. They sleep on the streets, eat on the streets, make love on the streets, give birth on the streets, are raped on the streets, cut their vegetables, wash their clothes, raise their children, live and die on the streets. If the motion picture were an art form that involved the olfactory senses – in other words, if cinema smelled – films like Slumdog Millionaire would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn't blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.

The people at the protest in Jantar Mantar that day were not even slum dogs, they were pavement-dwellers. Who were they? Where had they come from? They were the refugees of India's shining, the people who are being sloshed around like toxic effluent in a manufacturing process that has gone berserk. The representatives of the more than 60 million people who have been displaced, by rural destitution, by slow starvation, by drought and floods (many of them man-made), by mines, steel factories and aluminium smelters, by highways and expressways, by the 3,300 big dams built since independence and now by "Special Economic Zones". They're part of the 830 million people of India who live on less than 20 rupees (30 pence) a day, the ones who starve while millions of tonnes of foodgrain are either eaten by rats in government warehouses or burned in bulk (because it's cheaper to burn food than to distribute it to poor people). They're the parents of the tens of millions of malnourished children in our country, of the two million who die every year before they reach the age of five. They're the millions who make up the chain-gangs that are transported from city to city to build the New India.

What must they think, these people, about a government that sees fit to spend $9bn of public money (2,000 per cent more than the initial estimate) for a two-week-long sports extravaganza which, for fear of terrorism, malaria, dengue and New Delhi's new superbug, many international athletes have refused to attend? Which the Queen of England, titular head of the Commonwealth, would not consider presiding over, not even in her most irresponsible dreams. What must they think of the fact that most of those billions have been stolen and salted away by politicians and Games officials? Not much, I guess. Because for people who live on less than 20 rupees a day, money on that scale must seem like science fiction. It probably doesn't occur to them that it's their money.

Standing there, in that dim crowd on that bright day, I thought of all the struggles that are being waged by people in this country – against big dams in the Narmada Valley, Polavaram, Arunachal Pradesh; against mines in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, against the police by the Adivasis of Lalgarh, against the grabbing of their lands for industries and Special Economic Zones all over the country. How many years and (in how many ways) people have fought to avoid just such a fate. I thought of Maase, Narmada, Roopi, Nity, Mangtu, Madhav, Saroja, Raju, Gudsa Usendi and Comrade Kamla (my young bodyguard during the time I spent with the Maoists in the jungle) with their guns slung over their shoulders. I thought of the great dignity of the forest I had so recently walked in and the rhythm of the Adivasi drums at the Bhumkal celebration in Bastar, like the soundtrack of the quickening pulse of a furious nation.

I thought of Padma, with whom I travelled to Warangal. She's only in her thirties but when she walks up stairs she has to hold the banister and drag her body behind her. She was arrested just a week after she had had an appendix operation. She was beaten until she had an internal haemorrhage and had to have several organs removed. When they cracked her knees, the police explained helpfully that it was to make sure "she would never walk in the jungle again". She was released after serving an eight-year sentence. Now she runs the "Amarula Bandhu Mithrula Sangham", the Committee of Relatives and Friends of Martyrs. It retrieves the bodies of people killed in fake encounters. Padma spends her time criss-crossing northern Andhra Pradesh, in whatever transport she can find, transporting the corpses of people whose parents or spouses are too poor to make the journey themselves to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

The tenacity, the wisdom and the courage of those who have been fighting for years, for decades, to bring change, or even the whisper of justice to their lives, is something extra­ordinary. Whether people are fighting to overthrow the Indian state, or fighting against big dams, or only fighting a particular steel plant or mine or SEZ, the bottom line is that they are fighting for their dignity, for the right to live and smell like human beings.

They're fighting because, as far as they're concerned, "the fruits of modern development" stink like dead cattle on the highway.

On 15 August this year, the 63rd anniversary of India's independence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh climbed into his bulletproof soapbox in the Red Fort to deliver a passionless, bone-chillingly banal speech to the nation. Listening to him, who would have guessed that he was addressing a country that, despite having the second-highest economic growth rate in the world, has more poor people in eight states than in 26 of Africa's poorest countries put together? "All of you have contributed to India's success," he said, "the hard work of our workers, our artisans, our farmers has brought our country to where it stands today . . . We are building a new India in which every citizen would have a stake, an India which would be prosperous and in which all citizens would be able to live a life of honour and dignity in an environment of peace and goodwill. An India in which all problems could be solved through democratic means. An India in which the basic rights of every citizen would be protected."

If our prime minister's reputation for "personal integrity" extended to the text of his speeches, this is what he should have said:

Brothers and sisters, greetings to you on this day on which we remember our glorious past. Things are getting a little expensive, I know, and you keep moaning about food prices. But look at it this way – more than 650 million of you are engaged in and are living off agriculture as farmers and farm labour, but your combined efforts contribute less than 18 per cent of our GDP. So what's the use of you? Look at our IT sector. It employs 0.2 per cent of the population and earns us 5 per cent of our national income. Can you match that? It is true that in our country employment hasn't kept pace with growth, but fortunately 60 per cent of our workforce is self-employed. Ninety per cent of our labour force is employed by the unorganised sector. True, they manage to get work only for a few months in the year, but since we don't have a category called 'underemployed', we just keep that part a little vague. It would not be right to enter them in our books as unemployed.

Coming to the statistics that say we have the highest infant and maternal mortality in the world – we should unite as a nation and ignore bad news for the time being. We can address these problems later, after our Trickle-down Revolution, when the health sector has been completely privatised. Meanwhile, I hope you are all buying medical insurance. As for the fact that the per capita foodgrain availability has decreased over the past 20 years – which happens to be the period of our most rapid economic growth – believe me, that's just a coincidence.

My fellow citizens, we are building a new India in which our 100 richest people hold assets worth a full 25 per cent of our GDP. Wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer hands is always more efficient. You have all heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the broth. We want our beloved billionaires, our few hundred millionaires, their near and dear ones and their political and business associates, to be prosperous and to live a life of honour and dignity in an environment of peace and goodwill in which their basic rights are protected.

I am aware that my dreams cannot come true solely by using democratic means. In fact, I have come to believe that real democracy flows through the barrel of a gun. This is why we have deployed the army, the police, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Pradeshik Armed Constabulary, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Eastern Frontier Rifles – as well as the Scorpions, Greyhounds and CoBRAs – to crush the misguided insurrections that are erupting in our mineral-rich areas.

Our experiments with democracy began in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. Kashmir, I need not reiterate, is an integral part of India. We have deployed more than half a million soldiers to bring democracy to the people there. The Kashmiri youth who have been risking their lives by defying curfew and throwing stones at the police for the last two months are Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who actually want employment, not azadi [freedom].

Tragically, 60 of them have lost their lives before we could study their job applications. I have instructed the police from now on to shoot to maim rather than kill these misguided youths.

In his six years in office, Manmohan Singh has allowed himself to be cast as Sonia Gandhi's tentative, mild-mannered underling. It's an excellent disguise for a man who, for the past two decades, first as finance minister and then as prime minister, has powered through a regime of new economic policies that has brought India to the situation in which it finds itself now. Over the years he has stacked his cabinet and the bureaucracy with people who are evangelically committed to the corporate takeover of everything – water, electricity, minerals, agriculture, land, telecommunications, education, health – no matter what the consequences.

Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul, play an important part in all of this. Their job is to run the Department of Compassion and Charisma, and to win elections. They are allowed to make (and also to take credit for) decisions which appear progressive but are actually tactical and symbolic, meant to take the edge off popular anger and allow the big ship to keep on rolling. (The most recent example of this is the 26 August rally that was organised for Rahul Gandhi to claim victory for the cancellation of Vedanta's permission to mine Niyamgiri for bauxite – a battle that the Dongria Kondh tribe and a coalition of activists, local as well as international, have been fighting for years.)

The division of labour between politicians who have a mass base and win elections to keep the charade of democracy going, and those who actually run the country but either do not need to win elections (judges and bureaucrats) or have been freed of the constraint of doing so (like the prime minister), is a brilliant subversion of democratic practice. To imagine that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are in charge of the government would be a mistake. The real power has passed into the hands of a coven of oligarchs – judges, bureaucrats and politicians. They in turn are run like prize racehorses by the few corporations which more or less own everything in the country. They may belong to different parties and put up a great show of being political rivals, but that's just subterfuge for public consumption. The only real rivalry is the business rivalry between corporations.

A senior member of the coven is P Chidam­baram, the home minister. In a lecture titled "Poor Rich Countries: the Challenges of Development", given at Harvard, his old university, in October 2007, Chidambaram exulted about the GDP growth rate which rose from 6.9 per cent in 2001 to 9.4 per cent by 2007. What he said is important enough for me to inflict a chunk of his charmless prose on you:

India's mineral resources include coal – the fourth-largest reserves in the world – iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum and limestone. Common sense tells us that we should mine these resources quickly and efficiently. That requires huge capital, efficient organisation and a policy environment that will allow market forces to operate. None of these factors is present today in the mining sector . . . The result: actual investment is low, the mining sector grows at a tardy pace and it acts as a drag on the economy.

I shall give you another example. Vast extent of land is required for locating industries . . . Hitherto, land was acquired by the governments in exercise of the power of eminent domain. The only issue was payment of adequate compensation. That situation has changed. There are new stakeholders in every project, and their claims have to be recognised.

We are now obliged to address issues such as environmental impact . . . justification for compulsory acquisition, right compensation, solatium, rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced persons, alternative house sites and farmland, and one job for each affected family . . .

Allowing "market forces" to mine resources "quickly and efficiently" is what colonisers did to their colonies, what Spain and North America did to South America, what Europe did (and continues to do) in Africa. It's what the apartheid regime did in South Africa.

Note the standard-issue, meaningless sops in the minister's lecture. What compensation? What solatium? What rehabilitation? And what "job for each family"? (Sixty years of industrialisation in India has created employment for 6 per cent of the workforce.) As for being "obliged" to provide "justification" for the "compulsory acquisition" of land, a cabinet minister surely knows that to acquire tribal land compulsorily (which is where most of the minerals are) and turn it over to private mining corporations is illegal and unconstitutional under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act. Passed in 1996, PESA is an amendment that attempts to right some of the wrongs done to tribal people by the Indian constitution when it was adopted by parliament in 1950. Under PESA, "compulsory acquisition" of tribal land cannot be justified on any count.

Half a century ago, just a year before he was killed, Che Guevara wrote: "When the oppressive forces maintain themselves in power against laws they themselves established, peace must be considered already broken." Indeed it must. In 2009 Manmohan Singh said in parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have natural resources of minerals, that will certainly affect the climate for investment." This was a furtive declaration of war.

If you pay attention to the struggles taking place in India, you will see that most people are demanding no more than their constitutional rights. But the government of India no longer feels the need to abide by the Indian constitution, which is supposed to be the legal and moral framework on which our democracy rests.

If the government won't respect the constitution, perhaps we should push for an amendment to the preamble. "We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic . . ." could be substituted with "We, the upper castes and classes of India, having secretly resolved to constitute India into a corporate, Hindu, satellite state . . ."

The insurrection in the Indian countryside, in particular in the tribal heartland, poses a radical challenge, not only to the Indian state, but to resistance movements, too. It questions accepted ideas of what constitutes progress, development and, indeed, civilisation itself. It questions the ethics as well as the effectiveness of different strategies of resistance. These questions have been asked before, yes. They have been asked persistently, peacefully, year after year in a hundred different ways – most persuasively and perhaps most visibly by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the anti-dam movement in the Narmada Valley. The government of India's sole answer has been repression, deviousness and the kind of opacity that can only come from a pathological disrespect for ordinary people. Worse, it went ahead and accelerated the process of displacement and dispossession, to a point where people's anger has built up in ways that cannot be controlled. Today the poorest people in the world have managed to stop some of the richest corporations in their tracks. It is a huge victory.

Those who have risen up are aware that their country is in a state of emergency. They are aware that, like the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, they too have now been stripped of their civil rights by laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which criminalise every kind of dissent – by word, deed and even intent.

During the "Emergency", the saying goes, when Indira Gandhi asked the Indian press to bend, it crawled. And yet, in those days there were instances when national dailies defiantly published blank editorials to protest censorship. This time around, in the undeclared emergency, there's not much scope for defiance because the media are the government. Nobody, except the corporations that control it, can tell the government what to do. Senior politicians, ministers and officers of the security establishment vie to appear on TV, feebly imploring news anchors for permission to interrupt the day's sermon. Several TV channels and newspapers are overtly manning the war room of Operation Green Hunt, a military operation launched by the government of India against "Marxist rebels", and its disinformation campaign. There was the identically worded story about the "1,500-crore Maoist industry" filed under the byline of different reporters in several different papers. There are the several identical interviews with the female guerrilla, all of them advertised as "exclusive", about how she had been "raped and re-raped" by Maoist leaders. She was supposed to have escaped recently from the forests and the clutches of the Maoists to tell the world her tale. Now it turns out that she has been in police custody for months.

As war closes in, the armed forces have announced (in the way only they can) that they, too, are getting into the business of messing with our heads. In June 2010 they released a doctrine on military psychological operations which, the press release said, "is a policy, planning and implementation document that aims to create a conducive environment for the armed forces to operate by using the media available with the Services to their advantage".

A month later, at a meeting of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states, a decision was taken to escalate the war. Thirty-six battalions of the India Reserve Force were added to the existing 105 battalions, and 16,000 Special Police officers (civilians armed and contracted to function as police) were added to the existing 30,000. The home minister promised to hire 175,000 policemen over the next five years.

Two days later the army chief told his senior officers to be "mentally prepared to step into the fight against Naxalism . . . It might be in six months or in a year or two, but if we have to maintain our relevance as a tool of the state, we will have to undertake things that the nation wants us to do." By August, newspapers were reporting that "the Indian air force [IAF] can fire in self-defence in anti-Maoist operations". The Hindustan Times quoted an officer as saying, "We cannot use rockets or the integral guns of the helicopters and we can retaliate only if fired upon . . . To this end, we have side-mounted machine-guns on our choppers that are operated by our Garuds [IAF commandos]." That's a relief. No integral guns, only side-mounted machine-guns.

So here's the Indian state, in all its democratic glory, willing to loot, starve, lay siege to, and now deploy the air force in "self-defence" against, its poorest citizens.

Of all the various political formations involved in the current insurrection, none is more controversial than the CPI (Maoist). The most obvious reason is its unapologetic foregrounding of armed struggle as the only path to revolution. It is the most militant end of a bandwidth of resistance movements fighting an assault on Adivasi homelands by a cartel of mining and infrastructure companies. To deduce from this that the CPI (Maoist) is a party with a new way of thinking about "development" or the environment might be a little far-fetched. For a political party that is widely seen as opposing the onslaught of corporate mining, the Maoists' policy (and practice) on mining remains pretty woolly. From interviews and statements made by their senior leaders on the subject of mining, what emerges is a sort of "we'll do a better job" approach. They vaguely promise "environmentally sustainable" mining, higher royalties, better resettlement for the displaced and higher stakes for the "stakeholders".

Let's take a brief look at the star attraction in the mining belt – the several trillion dollars' worth of bauxite. There is no environmentally sustainable way of mining bauxite and processing it into aluminium. It is a highly toxic process that most western countries have exported out of their own environments. To produce one tonne of aluminium you need about six tonnes of bauxite, more than a thousand tonnes of water and a huge amount of electricity. To get that amount of captive water and electricity, you need big dams, which, as we know, come with their own cycle of cataclysmic destruction. Last of all – the big question – what is the aluminium for? Where is it going? Aluminium is the principal material in the weapons industry – other countries' weapons industries.

Given this, what would a sane and "sustainable" mining policy be? Suppose, for the sake of argument, the CPI (Maoist) were given control of the so-called Red Corridor, the tribal homeland – with its riches of uranium, bauxite, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble – how would it go about the business of policymaking and governance? Would it mine minerals to put on the market in order to create revenue, build infrastructure and expand its operations? Or would it mine only enough to meet the people's basic needs? How would it define "basic needs"? For instance, would nuclear weapons be a "basic need" in a Maoist nation state?

Judging from what is happening in Russia and China, communist and capitalist societies seem eventually to have one thing in common – the DNA of their dreams. After their revo­lutions, after building socialist societies that millions of workers and peasants paid for with their lives, both countries have now begun to reverse some of the gains of revolutionary change and have turned into unbridled capitalist economies. For them, too, the ability to consume has become the yardstick by which progress is measured. For this kind of "progress" you need industry. To feed the industry you need a steady supply of raw material. For that you need mines, dams, domination, colonies, war. Old powers are waning, new ones rising. Same story, different characters – rich countries plundering poor ones.

Yesterday it was Europe and America, today it's India and China. Maybe tomorrow it will be Africa. Will there be a tomorrow? Perhaps it's too late to ask, but then hope has little to do with reason.

Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for the planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place? It seems unlikely. The alternative, if there is one, will emerge from the places and the people who have resisted the hegemonic impulse of capitalism and imperialism instead of being co-opted by it. Here in India, even in the midst of all the violence and greed, there is still immense hope.

If anyone can do it, we can do it. We still have a population that has not yet been completely colonised by that consumerist dream. We have a living tradition of those who have struggled for Mahatma Gandhi's vision of sustainability and self-reliance, for socialist ideas of egalitarianism and social justice. We have B R Ambedkar's vision, which challenges the Gandhians as well as the socialists in serious ways. We have the most spectacular coalition of resistance movements with experience, understanding and vision. Most important of all, India has a surviving Adivasi population of almost a hundred million. They are the ones who still know the secrets of sustainable living. If they disappear, they will take those secrets with them. Wars such as "Operation Green Hunt" will make them disappear. So victory for the prosecutors of these wars will contain within itself the seeds of destruction, not just for Adivasis, but, in time, for the human race. That is why the war in central India is so important. That
is why we need a real and urgent conversation between all those political formations that are resisting this war.

The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognise that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers, because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.

The first step towards reimagining a world that has now gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination – an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism, an imagination that has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask our rulers: Can you leave the water in the rivers? The trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars.

Arundhati Roy is the author of "The God of Small Things", which won the 1997 Booker Prize. Her most recent book is "Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy" (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99)

Read a longer version of this essay.

Note to readers: The extended version of this essay was published by Newstatesman.com on 11 September.