Debates and democracy are twins. They just can't be separated. When noted economist and Noble laureate raised some fundamental issues confronting democracy in his book, he couldn't help giving it the title 'The Argumentative Indian'. Dr. Amartya Sen couldn't have titled the book more aptly for Indians have been argumentative since eons. Politics and current state of affairs have been amongst favorite topics for vast majority of Indians to ramble on. Even now in this purported fast age these discussions rule the roost in hinterlands. In villages and mofussils, as the evening begins to set in people too find themselves rushing towards chaupals (an assembly place) to be part of a common discussion. In the case of quarrels or petty crimes the tradition has been to arrive at a compromise or solution through discussion keeping official decrees and law at bay. These debates may not play any significant role in national affairs but they at least are illustrative of a fact that the essential ingredient of democracy had always been inherent in Indian psyche.
Now let me divert your attention to another kind of debates. I call them television debates. With the knowledge that television has become inexpensive and ingrained to our society coupled with the fact that politics interests most people, especially in rustic India than in middle class office going metros, I believe these television debates deserve more viewership and greater respect from possible participants. A serious question which comes to my mind is how many of our nation-pullers think of these debates as an ideal platform to hard sell their ideas to public? And how many of us viewers who might be news limpets in strict sense of word do care to watch these debates?
With the deluge of news channels both in Hindi and English we have some worthwhile choices to make. At the risk of being labeled didactic I would dare say that even those who don't have satellite channels can switch over to DD1, DD News and Lok Sabha channel to watch and listen to a variety of debates including about political issues. To be very truth I haven't seen much people, at least around me, amongst so called educated ones even, taking any keen interest in debates. This fact becomes more a matter of concern as well as amazement when I see simple villagers with zilch literacy levels always ready to listen to their leaders in person or on television.
What purpose do debates serve and why I want more debates to be telecast on television? For me debates are the articles of electronic media. As newspapers would lose their soul and become light and enervated if they are not fed on the healthy diet of trenchant and questions-raising articles and editorials, electronic media too would fall to the levels of being nothing short of cheap entertainment avenue if they choose to condone the importance of debates. Of late doing away with debates or not trying to improve their quality are some of the traits already being exhibited by some channels. Perhaps more business oriented and less journalistic ethoed minds find it more prudent to capitulate before 'market pressure' and spare more air time for 'breaking news' and 'special shows' than debates. It must be an anodyne experience for democracy when it sees a viewpoint being dissected and analysis being formed to reach at a righteous conclusion most perfectly fit in the given situation. In the wake of this fact it would be a huge service to the cause of democracy as well as value and class of their own standards if news channels expend a bit of their energy to produce world class debate programs with the necessary promotion.
Now we veer our gaze from news channels and focus at democracy. As I stated earlier these are the debates which lies at the crux of any form of governmental system which calls itself democratic. Like idol of a deity is placed in a temple and 'bhajans' (devotional songs) are sung around by devotees, idol of Goddess of democracy rests in a temple, we call parliament. I believe this deity too deserves her own bhajans by her die hard devotees. Same holds true for all such small temples build across the country. Now it is up to these devotees to visit their temples and sing saccharine bhajans steeped in utmost devotion to the deity if they so claim to be. If one calls oneself devotee then his craving for darshan (sight) of his God must outweigh his other wishes and yearnings. But sadly, to the consternation of temple and Goddess alike these devotees seem more interested in being a corrupt and venal pujari (priest) than mere devotees. More than the care of idol it is the chadaava (religious offering) by common people they have their eyes on.
When was the last time we had seen or they had allowed us to be witness to their arduous debates about any one problem of millions plaguing this country. Last time when I tuned in Lok Sabha channel to see the proceedings of parliament all that I got to see was scant presence and bland questions and answers. May be they don't want us to be party to their more intense and effulgent demeanor when they indulge in ignominious squabbles (which turns physical sometimes) and hastened and irresponsible walk outs.
When western observers heap encomiums and label India, along with China as a rising superpower, our politicians lap it up because it suits them. A stamp of approval and a sweet lollypop to be offered to general public, that too from west, what else can rival it?
I take respite in the fact that those whose memories have been labeled too short and too weak are not that twerp as they are made out or thought to be by their own leaders. In last general election when NDA tried to offer this lollypop of India Shining they paid the price by having lost the power to remain in charge of chadaava. UPA had better watch out.
Coming to television debates again, one factor that I couldn't help noticing was the appearance of same political faces, mostly crafted leaders, emphasizing their party's viewpoints on different channels. It seems that this might be the one reason that they are indispensable to their respective parties. What is amazing is, in a democratic country like India, we don't see many politicians especially who claim to have large mass followings and are being in the thick of the things using television debates as a medium to connect to masses. Their obvious retort must be: why debate when there are rallies which have us in direct touch with our people. I may be utterly wrong but from what I have seen in these rallies I can vouch for the fact these rallies are nothing short of pretentious hogwash of highest level. People are brought packed in trucks and tractors to kranti maidans and then are unpacked like logs of the wood. This constitutes some 60% of the crowd. Rest includes curious natives and onlookers of the place and party workers themselves. A political leader belabors about his virtues and vices of his adversary. A large swathe of party workers make sure a grand applause at regular intervals with rants of zindabad (long live) interspersed spasmodically. In this imbroglio, our political leader, the only savior of His people prefers to turn a blind eye to those fainting in excruciating sun and his drivel continues. Of course these rallies can't fill in for debates because there one runs the risk of being stopped and exposed to incisiveness of questions and one's right of dissension. Nonetheless rallies, however dysfunctional, disorderly and one way traffic, have their own place in a democratic set up but they can't replace debates.
We saw the victory of presumptive democratic nominee Barack Obama. We bore witness to the torrent of countless debates he had had with his rival candidate Hilary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination for presidency, bringing to the fore almost every facet of their whole being. And so did John McCain who win his nomination after being through inexorable debates. We also saw that all the candidates who were in the fray did not see it beneath their dignity to appear on television shows and indulging in not only debate but in banter as well. On several occasions, we had hosts like Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel making fun of candidates contending for most important job in the world. We saw Jon Stewart and Stephan Colbert taking cudgels on behalf of public to grope and sound out candidates aspiring to be their next president.
We are aware that India is not America but we also know that debate is a debate whether India or America. I bemuse when I try to find out what stops our politicians, especially those who play more crucial role in running the country and remain at the helm from appearing on debate programs on television or arranging for live telecast of internal debates of their parties. If they can demand support from a voter it is an obligation on their part to tell voter who they are, how they work and what do they stand for vividly and clearly. Will we ever get to see a Mulayam Singh Yadav telling us what brought about the new alliance that he shares with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan? Will a Prakash Singh Badal ever take part in a debate to tell us bottlenecks in electoral politics? Will a Mayawati ever decide to stand among her political betesnoires on same platform for answering questions straight either from them or from public? Will a Om Prakash Chautala ever deem television debates and their audience worthy enough to spare few hours from his busy life to ponder upon whether corruption or corrupted are like termites or not? Will a Jayalalitha ever feel like an ordinary mortal human being to have us believe that she doesn't resent questions no matter however much sharp and from however much poor being? Will a Sonia Gandhi hold a debate if someone dares to challenge Rahul Gandhi's direct accession to top post or simply the challenger will see him getting punished on disciplinarian account? Will a Manmohan Singh ever accept an open challenge to debate thrown to him by BJP prime ministerial aspirant L.K. Adavni over all the major issues plaguing the country?
We often hear politicians whining about sting operations and sensationalism, the two evils electronic media is besotted with, and proposing regulation of media. Definitely evil and provocative sting operations and sensationalism must be checked but it would make us equally happier if they also inspire media in making quality debate programs, arranging for their own internal debates and doing their bit to serve the Goddess of democracy in addition to what they are already doing. As we see and read, impression comes that more than what we call in our nation 'the common man' a relegation and an insult we are so ready to live with, these are our politicians, our 'representatives' though they don't think it fit enough to ask us, who are being represented, every time they change their side or for that matter even views, who appear more proud of our diversity and secularism. Will they ever be a little concerned to show us a display of what lies at the very crux of their favorite monologues i.e. democracy and secularism, by agreeing to appear on debate shows more regularly and in utter sincerity. I am sure no reality show will be like this.