The quality of “debate”

The headline writers of national papers seem unanimous — they all cite Narendra Modi’s quoting of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi as the main talking point from his speech in Parliament yesterday.

The specific section that seems to have caught the imagination is this:

“When Parliament sessions are not functional, the nation suffers and more than that the MPs suffer because they can’t discuss issues… House is a place where debates are to take place, but if boundaries are maintained during a debate then it’s fruitful,” PM Modi said, adding that it was not his words but that of Rajiv.

“I appeal the Opposition to help pass important bills in both Houses of Parliament,” Modi said, once again saying it was Rajiv who had said those words during his tenure in Parliament and not him.

I am bemused. Is this what passes for quality debate these days? (Just the other day, there was an ecstatic reception for a speech made by one of Mr Modi’s Cabinet colleagues — a speech characterised by dubious fact and risible theatrics).

For a debating point to win applause at a collegiate level, it has to stand up to at least a minute’s cursory scrutiny. This one doesn’t — it is too easily trumped by a more contemporaneous quote:

Rubbishing the no loss argument of the government in the coal block allocations, the Bharatiya Janata Party has made it clear that it is in no mood to allow Parliament to function till its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation is met.

“A nation wide debate is on on this issue though it is not taking place in Parliament. Our strategy does not permit that we allow the government to use Parliament to end this debate without any accountability. We want the debate to go on further,” Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley told media persons in New Delhi. “There are occasions when obstruction in Parliament brings greater benefit to the country,” he said.

What can you then do if the opposition of today turns around and says we don’t want this debate to end here, we want to take it to the nation? (It’s a different matter that thus far, the opposition — united, seemingly, only by its collective ineptitude — seems to have missed the full toss altogether.)

Taking it a step further, and of the same 2012 vintage, Ms Sushma Swaraj, thus:

“Not allowing parliament to function is also a form of democracy like any other form,” she contended, reacting to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that the BJP’s stalling of parliament was a “negation” of democracy.

Which gives the opposition the chance to say that today, by disrupting Parliament, it is practicising “a form of democracy like any other form”, no? So, serious question: Why exactly is the quoting of Rajiv Gandhi on the issue of Parliamentary paralysis that big of a deal that it made front page headlines all over?

This by the way is not to take a dig at Mr Modi (in recent times, that has begun to pall, it is that easy) but to highlight the question that was bothering me: If we are reduced to celebrating such easily refuted “gotcha” quotes as debate at its finest, what does it say about the overall quality of Parliamentary debates?

While on this, it doesn’t help that the star speaker for the Opposition, Mr Rahul Gandhi, turned in a performance that was — to use the kindest possible adjective — sophomoric.

In passing, maybe that is why Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech in JNU the same evening (Scroll has the full translated text) caught the public fancy: he not only displayed the skills of a quality orator (consider the folksy analogies, and the patterns he created with perfectly spaced crescendoes and diminuendoes), he actually made a few telling points that will linger in the public imagination (to cite one example, his deft line that the youth seeks freedom in, not from, India).

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3 thoughts on “The quality of “debate”

  1. Prem please do the world and all right thinking patriotic desis a favor and stop writing. Period. Your cricket writing is atrocious and your blogs worse and full on untruths and liberal colas. Maybe it is good for your fake friends who kinda think they are intellectuals but in reality are simply traitors just as you are.

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