Friday, January 23, 2015

Political Leaders and Debating skills ; Delhi Assembly elections 2015


Political Leaders and Debating skills

Delhi Assembly elections 2015:


Ms Kiran Bedi, BJP's Chief Minister (CM) candidate when asked to accept Aap party CM candidate Arvind Kejriwal's challenge for a public debate, refused. She said first of all it's too late in the day for a debate. Unfortunately he believes in debates, I believe in delivery. I would love a debate on the floor of the House. I think it is very uncivil, since, doing a debate with him is a tamasha and I am not for a tamasha. (Some commentators said that he would slice her up. Even PM Modi would think twice.)


When posted in Paris in 1970s, I watched for the first time a political debate on TV, after the sudden death of French President Pompidou in 1974. The two major contenders were Giscard d'Estaing, the candidate of the right-wing and François Mitterrand, the candidate of the left-wing. This was just before the second round of the presidential elections after the first round had decided the top two contenders for the ultimate prize, two weeks earlier, in which everyone could and did stand for elections.


Apart from television debates India could also consider having two rounds of voting, the first-round would allow everyone to stand and then the two top contenders to fight it out to be a member of the Parliament or a State assembly, thus a winner must get 50% plus one vote to represent the constituency. In the prevailing system, OBC leader Mulayam Singh Yadav rules Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 170 million, with only 29% of the votes cast, while Prime Minister Modi who rules India has a comfortable majority having obtained only 31% from the votes cast. Thus, Indian democracy is not even representative of the majority of the votes cast. There are many electoral models to make the representatives as close to majority as possible.


India's electoral system was borrowed from the British Islands model, which had historically evolved into a two parties system. UK considered another electoral model now that there is a 3rd major political party .With the caste leaders in most of the Indian states ruling the roost, there is not going to be any change unless forced by a Constitution Bench or a movement of the people. I hope some democracy loving constitutional lawyer files a writ petition in the Supreme Court.


Coming back to the 1974 debate between Giscard and François, it was more or less a balanced political debate and a spectacle. But at the end Giscard very forcefully replying to the questions which Mitterrand had put, exclaimed, "vows êtes l'homme du passif" ie you are a man of the past; you represent old ideas." Abruptly, the debate came to an end just then, giving the necessary edge to Giscard who won by a very narrow majority margin of 1.6%. It is to date the closest presidential election in French history. Giscard's term of seven years ended with his coalition in disarray, he accused of being haughty and inaccessible plus accusations of diamonds gifted to him by an African ruler.


Mitterrand was then elected for two seven year terms. There is a joke that no lady in France would refuse the amorous advances of a newly crowned president or prime minister .As is well known and recorded French presidents are very open about their mistresses, a continuation of their history when Kings and emperors who openly flaunted their mistresses who even affected state policies .During my tenure in Paris, there were media reports of Giscard driving alone in a small car for rendezvous with his lady love. President Hollande is no different. Mitterrand's mistress with their daughter was present at his funeral. Many top Indian leaders have mistresses, even in Rashtrapati Bhavan, but hypocritical Indians donot write about it. 


Another debate I watched was on CNN in Ankara in end 1992 between incumbent Pres George Bush Sr and an upstart challenger in Bill Clinton, who had dared to stand because no other prominent Democrat was willing to stand after the successful operation carried out under Bush's leadership to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in January 1991. Unfortunately, by forcing Israel to attend a peace conference in Madrid, Bush had annoyed the powerful Jewish lobby in USA, which literally controls the House and the Senate literally by the shorthair. Anyone not fulfilling in advance Israel's foreign policy objectives is defeated by the Jewish lobby and the stranglehold of the Jewish bankers, financiers, media and others.


However, an added reason for the somewhat unexpected win of Clinton was the debate in which Bush behaved like the incumbent Pres and not a candidate. At one point when the question of his weak economic policy was being debated George Bush in the presidential manner, said that he would ask his secretary of state Baker to look into this. This was a fatal mistake of which Clinton took full advantage .He growled that he would be himself looking after the economic policy. After this sort of hard punch, one could see that a deflated George Bush senior, his wife and party exited the hall like an army in retreat.


I have given two examples of debates which I watched on the television. I believe that the debating skills of the candidates and their ability to answer questions to pertinent problems of the country have become a must, an absolute necessity in present era of advances in means of communication. Yes, debating kill is not be all and end all. And some people consider it is a very ordinary talent because debaters are more interested in scoring a point than looking at the subject under discussion in depth.


An example is Mani Shankar Aiyar. He did great damage to the Congress party cause when he said that BJP candidate Narendra Modi, who had once carried tea as part of his duties, could come and serve tea at Congress functions. This rebounded negatively on the Congress party in the elections , as were interviews by Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi .He was no match to Narendra Modi, who had the advantage  of being a successful pracharak ie preacher of  RSS for nearly 30 years and was therefore and is a persuasive speaker.


The debating skill is necessary not only for political leaders to put across party manifestoes but otherwise too but the debate should be restricted to only the top two or three .It is necessary to question them about their policies and projects. A neutral group of independent journalists and others could frame the questions.


Now days, political leaders declare freebies to the electorate before the elections or promise them without caring about the budget or the finances of the state. This has led to totally irresponsible way in financing of states and its revenues. Free power, mostly to rich farmers, has destroyed the Indian power sector almost completely .Apart from this the political leaders also collect large amounts of money under the pretext of funds for elections and keep a large percentage to themselves and distribute some freebies. A government funding of political parties is a must.


During debates the contenders must be asked how they will finance the freebies which they are promising. Therefore what would be the new taxes they would like to levy? At the current moment they all complain that it is the central government, which is not giving them the funds .It is not their fault. This is not correct. They should be held liable for new taxes and expenditure.


Debating skill or to carry an argument is also necessary for teachers, managers, almost in all walks of life. In 1987 -89, while I was establishing the foreign service institute to train new entrants to the Indian foreign service and for upgrading the diplomatic skills at midcareer level and even from other ministries and departments, it so happened that a young IFS officer who used to anchor and organise programs on India's only public DD channels was seconded to FSI. He had thus acquired certain requirements, how to stand, how to pose and speak while delivering speeches or debating. I therefore prepared a small Module for the diplomats and others to be taught how to enhance their debating skills and lecture delivery.


In a recent book, an upstart back stabbing family retainer had written how not only Rajeev Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi but even Indira Gandhi, used to prepare for election speeches. For all her faults Sonia Gandhi, an Italian, did a magnificent job in transforming herself into an Indian including speaking in Hindi .Thus, delivery of speeches and debating is a very essential skill.


K.Gajendra Singh, 23 Jan., 2015, Mayur Vihar, Delhi