Why can't our Netas love to debate in parliament than on TV?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Recently, BJP's prime ministarial candidate L K Advani challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a live TV debate similar to the practice in US. In the era of news hungry media, Advani Vs Manmohan Singh television debate can surely raise voters' eyebrows. More over, television channels are sitting on the edge to host such debates. "Live and exclusive only on your channel", would surely bag more viewers. One of my colleague commenting on this issue humorously said, "Rajdeep Sardesai would be happy to fuel mud slinging between the two by asking obvious controversial questions. Arnab Goswamy would ensure that both leader will quarrel each other openly. And Barkha Dutt would make sure she will gain more publicity than the debate itself!"

India has been contemplating on prime ministerial television debate for quite some time. Though such debates in India might not decide the winnability of a leaders but will definitely put their abilities to test. It would be unfair to say that, "If United States is using such device (TV debate) since the era of Abraham Lincoln, why can't India have it?" The issue must be looked at from two different perspectives. Firstly, the democratic culture in India and US are different. Secondly, the pros and cons of such debates must be appreciated in Indian context.

Difference in democratic culture
In united states the executive (i.e. the president) is neither the member of Congress (i.e. US parliament) nor he is responsible to it. American constitution had denied the president an opportunity to debate in Congress on day to day matters owing to the principle of separation of powers between executive, judiciary and Congress. But he can only address the Congress if required. Thus, in America the president lacks a constitutional platform for regular debate with opposition leaders. Hence, president's public addresses on television or otherwise will have tremendous impact on dynamics of American politics.

However, in India, the position is quite opposite. The prime minister, the de-facto head of state, is not only the member of parliament but also responsible to it for his policies. More over, prime minister is invariably the leader of the house to which he was elected. Our prime minister, like in Britain, has the luxury of constitutional platform for debates on day to day matters with opposition leaders. More over, the debates are broadcasted live on television and the public will have access to archives of parliamentary debates. His appearance on television is largely aimed at reaching a 'section' of masses through the media.

The parliament provides Indian prime minster a bigger platform to defend his policies and also explain to the whole nation about entire gamut of his governance. Also, the opposition leader has sufficient opportunity to criticize the government on it's policies and programs. Thus, in India, parliamentary debates obviate the need for television debates. More over, the questions asked in parliament makes the whole executive excessively cautious and careful. Question hour in parliament is a greatest strength of parliamentary democracy and it's importance can be ignored by the leader only at his peril.

How far our prime minister and leader of opposition make use of the parliamentary platform for debates is another aspect. Fortunately, Our prime ministers in the past, from Pandit Nehru to Vajpayee, took great interest in parliamentary debates and Dr. Manmohan Singh is no different. More over, important discussions, criticism of government in the parliament receives wide publicity in the media, print as well as electronic.

TV debates in Indian context
Despite the constitutional platform for public debates, the role of television media in modern era cannot be underestimated. It has a significant potential to evaluate the leaders. But, in India, there are equally significant hurdles. First and foremost is the language barrier. Unlike in United states, Indians are linguistically diverse. We speak hundreds of languages and constitution itself recognizes 18 of them as official languages. In fact our national language, Hindi, is spoke only by 30% of the population. The debate in one particular language keeps away the people from such debates if they do not know that language. Even if the debates are appropriately translated, they might not draw the same emotions and feelings as in the original language. More over, the debates involving western educated, english speaking leaders will hardly reach 1% of the population through media. For example, Dr.Manmohan Singh's speach in Hindi, may not be understood by majority of Tamilians, Kannadigas and others. Many of us are aware of Shashi Tharoor's unquestionable debating skills (in english). But, how far that skill can fetch him the votes in Malayalam heartland?

Second problem is, unlike in US, the relatively low level of education in India. Inflation, recession, credit crisis, etc.. may be buzzwords in the news media. How many in our country actually understand the debates on economic situation? How many farmers would understand the effect of credit crisis in Indian market? Many statements (from Dr.Singh's team of economists) filled with economic indicators like inflation rate, CRR, SLR, Repo Rate, etc are still an unsolvable puzzles to many. More over, how many of us actually understand the cryptic legal texts? or at least know the general provisions of related legal acts? The debates full of such information can make no difference to the people.

Thirdly, Indian politics has moved far from unipolar Congress dominated politics to multi polar politics. We speak of third and even fourth front! Growth of regional parties and subsequent growth of opportunism in politics brings down the quality of such debates. It may even create hatred feeling among the people due to open mud slinging. More over, media is even more opportunistic to fuel such mud slinging in TV debates for it's own commercial reasons.

Lastly, there may be other reasons, like various parties have their own spokes persons who regularly debates with their counter parts in other parties on television media. Also, our prime minister may be media shy, but his knowledge, experience and work itself speaks volumes, though Madam Gandhi's influence cannot be denied.

Despite all such barriers, importance of prime ministarial debates cannot be underestimated. They will play an important, if not decisive, role in educating people (at least educated urban section of the population). At this moment, prime ministarial debate, if it happens, will be nothing more than a serious entertainment. But, it will surely be a precursor to it's bigger role in the future.

1 comment:

Anrosh said...

manju from of indiancabbages and kings blogspot once wrote on parkinson's law of trivality -- the political goons only debate on matters of irrelevance -- so where they debate does not matter.

if you are talking about the language of debate, one can definitely use a translator on the tv screen for the people to understand. that should not be an issue.

most of the population are interested in the benefits that should percolate down towards them but that is rarity, because of the corruption. when the man is hungry and there is no electricity to watch tv and no money to buy a newspapers and the blind eye towards the suicide of farmers shows the apathy of the elected neta towards the constitutency. to add to it, the local political goons also threaten the poor and the down trodden..the exercise continues -- it is demockracy ( not my word ) in action..

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.