|‘Bhai, without ball can you play cricket?’
| Mamata Banerjee with Rahul Dravid at The Telegraph National Debate, presented by Ballantine’s, at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Friday. Picture by Pabitra Das.
In the opinion of the house, India will be better run if politicians are left out of the government
It was the kind of motion that could swing either way, as in it could easily degenerate into a deadly dull exchange of banalities or it could be a platform for some pretty interesting stuff.
Luckily for all of us attending this years The Telegraph National Debate, it was the latter. Aveek Sarkar, the chief editor of the ABP Group, began with introductory remarks about each of the debaters that suggested that irreverence was being invited rather than avoided and, intentionally or not, most of the speakers did not disappoint.
Speakers for the motion were: Suhel Seth, Rahul Dravid, Dipankar Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta.
Speaking against were: Ram Guha, Jay Panda, Salman Khurshid and Mamata Banerjee.
Suhel Seth was first to the podium. Avoiding any mention of his own friends in politics, he launched into the badness of politicians in general and Congress politicians in particular — QED the country should get rid of all politicians who were not in the Sangh parivar. He looked at Mamata Banerjee and informed her that she could be a great leader but wouldnt make a great chief minister.
He railed against corrupt dark glass-wearing leaders of southern states (clearly north Indian pols with shades are all right) and finally took a hard swipe at the PM, thundering: He doesnt know between which stools he stands!
From Seths strained voice, one could gauge that his own relationship with stools was a bit iffy too. Summary: politicians are bad; bad politicians are really bad; politics itself isnt all bad.
Ram Guha walked up first for the side defending the right of politicians to exist. Despite his deficit of ancient years, Guha has now perfected what one can only term a Hobsbawmesque demeanour. If it werent for politicians, none of the opposition save Rahul Dravid would have a job, said Guha.
We had to thank the pols who made our Constitution and so did Rahul Dravid, for otherwise he would have ended up playing for Mysore state. Guha then rapidly swung at all the non-politicians wed allowed into power, ranging from the really bad ones (Sanjay Gandhi, failed entrepreneur) to good people (good old PM, economist but clueless politician) and then settled on Mamata Banerjee as a proper kind of politician, one whos risen from the people by fighting elections.
By the end of the evening, Ram Guha was proved absolutely right and Suhel Seth demonstrably destroyed.
Once Mamata Banerjee stood up to speak, the real lines of the debate became very clear: on one side were this selection of English-speaking men with their posh voices ranging from Seth and Dasguptas high whines to Guha, Gupta and Khurshids baritones.
On the other side there was Mamata, stepping down the pitch and smacking everyone to all parts of the ground.
Swapan Dasgupta had earlier gone on his usual attack against his favourite bugbear, Nehruvian hangovers, fumbling badly with the word Kalyug like a butter-fingered slip fielder with a hot edge (once, Punjabi style: Kll-yoog, then the Brown Saheb in him coming out with Call-yugg and then, in his excitement the final murder of Hindi, the word becoming simply cull-yooo), and Banerjee madam grabbed him first by the scruff of the neck: I see Swapan Dasguptas face all the time on TV defending the BJP! and There are some goody-goody people here who dont take risks… they are not politicians but shadow politicians!
Then she turned to Dravid who had suggested that politicians should be dropped not just for corruption but also bad performance. Dont you have in cricket both batting and also betting? and then one of the killer lines of the evening: Tell me bhai, without ball can you play cricket? Rasogolla with salt? Newspaper without headlines? Country without leaders?
To all the anti-politicians MB then summarily offered: Come to my party! Stand for election! I will give you all tickets! In short, put your money where your mouth is, come put yourself on the line. If not, then shut up.
Ultimately for all of Salman Khurshids buttered debatery, for all of Swapan Dasguptas semi-skimmed demagoguery, for all of Guhas warmly intimate quotations and anecdotes and for all of Dipankar Guptas smooth reasoning, this other Calcutta had one answer: Because you are having a good command in your English language… shake of head, but you have to think of the poor people also.
So much then for Burke and Churchill, St. Stephens College, Cambridge and Oxford. It was brilliant, it was scary and it may yet prove to be the harbinger of darker and funnier things.
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