The Telegraph
Thursday , January 30 , 2014
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Debate test in Presi poll

Clear your throat, brush up your extempore vocabulary and sound out your ideas to stand a chance to lead the student union at Presidency University.

Good debaters — not rabble–rousers — could form the next union at Bengal’s youngest university after it successfully tried out on Wednesday an untested model: a presidential-style debate to help students choose the best candidate.

For leaders of the Independents’ Consolidation (IC) and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the battle lines were drawn. But only across the debating dais.

Candidates fighting for the student union posts spoke at the “candidature establishment discussion” in the Derozio auditorium, hardselling why he or she deserved the vote in the January 31 polls.

Altogether 12 candidates, including two independents seeking to be elected for the post of girls’ common room secretary, put forth their points before the students, who grilled the speakers afterwards at a live interactive session.

SFI’s Madhura Gayen said she favoured a quality bookshelf for recreational activity in the common room. A student asked if Gayen meant that the arts library located in the same building lacked quality books.

Similar counter-points were fired at candidates from the IC, which advocates an apolitical non-partisan union at Presidency.

Shatadru Ghosh Roy, the SFI candidate for the post of vice-president, had to face the heat for what he had allegedly done a day before. The first-year postgraduate student was asked how he could speak of violence-free elections when he had apparently threatened to beat up an IC student during a procession in the university.

Sociologist Prasanta Roy, who moderated the session along with Presidency teacher Nandalal Chakrabarti, said the debate could become one of the steps to rid the campus of violence during polls.

“This is the only model… but a welcome step. Students didn’t get a chance to interact with the candidates in the previous polls. This year, the voters got a chance to appraise the candidates and make up their mind,” Roy said.

Other universities riddled with campus unrest could adopt this model, he suggested.

A Calcutta University official acknowledged the need for healthy debates, if allowed. “To have the debate you must have some contest. Elections are won at CU uncontested even before the polls are held because of large-scale intimidation, mostly during the filing of nomination.”

“Steps such as online filing of nomination papers could cure the scourge. Debates across our six campuses could be made part of the poll process,” he added.

Jadavpur University officials said they might follow Presidency’s lead next year.