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SUITABLE MATCH

It is not always reassuring when theory vindicates itself in practical life. That everything contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction may be exciting as theory, but it is disturbing when a multi-party democracy, for example, rejects one of the main instruments of its justifiability because the multiple parties themselves are scrambling for power. A tremendous hullabaloo has broken out because Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and the Bharatiya Janata Partyís prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections, has called for a debate on Article 370. There is no reason to think that Mr Modiís proposal is disinterested. The BJP had earlier declared its dislike of an article that gives Jammu and Kashmir special status. Mr Modiís revival of the issue, in the guise of a rational discussion to ensure what good the article has done the Kashmiris, is just a roundabout route to the BJPís only, and perfectly well-known, ploy to capture votes. But what is disturbing is the knee-jerk reaction of the other political leaders. However obvious Mr Modiís reasons, his rhetoric was impeccable: he was asking for a debate. And debate is one of the characteristic instruments of a democracy.

If Mr Modiís reasons were political, it has to be admitted that the dismissal of his invitation by political leaders from other parties was equally so. It is not merely that no one is willing to risk a debate on a touchy subject now, or that they are over-eager to Ďexposeí Mr Modiís motives in electoral hope, but it is also that they have forgotten how to debate. They know how to criticize, to shout down, to bully, but debating, as one of the fundamental expressions of the rationality underlying the democratic structure, has vanished from their politics. Yet accepting Mr Modiís wily challenge could have helped. The only way to rise above the politicking that has immersed all other aspects of democratic culture would be to revive debate and reject screaming matches. But even that would take conscious effort. The cacophony of parties eager to grab the biggest piece of the cake may slowly destroy democratic ideals, but the ideals themselves also clash with a feature of pre-democratic culture. The Indian sensibility clings instinctively to authoritarianism. Hence no political party yet encourages internal debate. To grant debate its due place in a democracy they would need serious training first.