The Telegraph
Sunday , February 16 , 2014
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D for Democracy, not Direct


Calcutta Club The Telegraph National Debate 2014 (television news partner ABP Ananda, co-sponsor Maruti Suzuki Celerio and radio partner 91.9 Friends FM)


The government should be run directly by the people


The motion was defeated. So, in the opinion of the house the government should NOT be run directly by the people


Meera Sanyal

Aam Aadmi Party politician

I think there must not be a single one of us in this audience who has not watched with horror the scenes in our Parliament and in the Delhi Assembly with pepper sprays and mikes being torn out.

This five-year term has seen Parliament function for a total of only 345 days, that is one year out of five years and we can compare this with previous Lok Sabhas.... where Parliament functioned for four to five times this amount.

In this 15th term, only 165 bills have been passed, the lowest ever since Independence. There are now over 130 bills pending.... You can turn around and say this is a busy political establishment and that’s the way Indian Parliament runs. Let me share with you a bill, which was passed with great alacrity and speed. The name of that bill is salary allowances and pension of members of the Parliament. The Lok Sabha passed it in a record time of two days on August 27, 2010 and it was ratified by the higher house, by the Rajya Sabha in another two days on August 29, 2010. So it’s clear that when our representatives want to work they can work quite speedily.

Our political representatives must understand that if you are a public servant it does not mean that the minute you get elected the public becomes your servant, it means you enter a life of public service.


Derek O’Brien

Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP

When I sent an SMS with the motion of today’s debate to a lady chief minister in eastern India, I got a prompt response, saying, ‘I didn’t ask you when I shifted Writers’ Buildings to Nabanna and I’m not going to tell you anything on your topic’. Friends, THAT is good governance. You try and move Writers’ Buildings with all its cobwebs of inefficiency, with all its baggage of the past, move it across the river, don’t ask anybody in the unions, you may or may not consult anybody in the party… you have to be decisive. You have to represent the people…. They’ve given you a mandate for five years, run it.

I am surprised Meera Sanyal is upset with MPs' salaries. The cost to company of an MP is less than Rs 20-22 lakh a year. Many bankers in the middle level get Rs 50-60lakh a year. You’d rather pay the MP Rs 40-44 lakh and get good work done rather than be penny wise and pound foolish.

The key is not how much your MPs get paid, the key to the subject is ‘directly’ by the people. My submission is you elect someone directly, you leave the person alone to run it his or her way. Then if you don’t want it, knock the person out in five years…. Trust your representatives. And if you don’t want to trust your representatives then all of you will want the right to recall but the right to recall is not the solution.


Mithun Chakraborty

Actor and Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP

Thank you for choosing the bali ka bakra today, me. Among these best speakers you have chosen me. Thank you very much. Well, I would rather say that I will not go deep into the topic because you have been hearing the best speakers. I would rather go into my own experiences in life.

When I was a young boy, I am a boy from north Calcutta, we had paras, which was a very big thing for us. We used to go and ask everyone how to do the Durga Puja, and how to do our musical functions. Ghar ghar jaake hum chanda ikattha kartey thhe. That’s the way everybody was involved, each and every one for the para.

Then time changed. You know what happened? Locality mein naye log aa gaye, they did not have the same spirit. They did not understand. The old Dadu died. And suddenly the most dangerous thing happened. We started forming groups and in the groups friends became enemies and the whole thought of running a para by the people went berserk.

So, for me, it is not only difficult but impossible for people to run a para, then how can they run a government?

It is very easy to bat against the politician, I understand. You know, even I did that, and as a film man I did the most. But trust me, with my heart I can tell you Hindustan mein sabhi log kharaab nahin hain. Agar kharaab hotey toh ye desh bikharke kahin se kahin chala gaya hota. Kuch log kharaab hain. Aur kuch logon ke liye itne logon ko badnaam na karein.

Itna bada desh kaise chal sakta hai…. If suddenly people rise and say that they want to run a government it will be like playing an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match.

Come on, man! Democracy doesn’t mean that you don’t have laws. You have laws. Democracy doesn’t mean that you go and kill anybody you like. It has a process. It has laws. We have to follow them. We need them. Then go ahead. I understand each of you sitting here is very intelligent, very, very thoughtful and you can say whatever you like, that’s democracy. Tell me how many of you walk on the street without using a mobile phone? Tell me how many of us still believe that zebra is the crossing? Well, that’s the way the government is going to run!

You will shout and shout and nothing will happen. You need someone, somebody to give your thoughts. That’s the way democracy runs. I agree with you. We change the governance. Change the way they do things. That power you have. But do not, by Jove, tell me ‘well buddy, we are going to run the government’. Raise your hands how many are ready for it? And next there is somebody lying here, there and somebody is not going back home. Do you want that? You don’t what that.

You see, that’s my life. I have seen life from the footpath to here. I still do not complain. I am not here to say I am one of the highest taxpayers of the country from ’94 to ’99. No. I’m not here to brag about it. I’ve got the certificate from the finance ministry with the Ashok Stambha on it. People say ‘you’ve got four national awards’. I say ‘yes, three for acting and one for paying money’. This is the one award I paid money and I got it! I am not here to say anything more than that. This is my personal experience I think.

To run something you need someone, and that someone you choose. You choose and you be careful, but can you really run a government? Can all of us? Is it possible?

Touch your heart and say, it is not, because you have so many things to do, you have to think about your children, for their education, for their future. So leave something for somebody else to think and do your job for you.

I think you spared me because I have not taken the oath (as MP) yet! I know, I understand.

I want to tell you something very interesting though it is not really related with the thought of today. Once I had three girlfriends. In democracy they had their voices. And one day I was beaten very badly because I was caught red-handed. Do not, before you get caught red-handed, have so many people, choose one.



Spokesperson for the Congress

Professor Amartya Sen wrote that if you empower people, empowerment leads to entitlement and entitlement leads to enrichment. But when we have discussions on representative democracy vis-A-vis direct democracy let’s not miss the woods for the trees. We have 543 MPs in India representing 120 crore people, you have 650 people from the House of Commons in UK representing 5 crore people. If you look at that statistic it tells you why we are having this debate today, because politicians in India by the very nature of our parliamentary system somewhere are not able to represent the people.

Why do we need more power to be given to the people? There are many reasons. You can talk about corruption, development... but the real reason is inequality, not just of incomes but inequality of life.


General J. J. Singh

Former chief of army staff

Franklin D. Roosevelt had said ‘democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely’. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.... Countries where education standards have gone up, the people chose wisely. So our first and foremost duty is to invest in education....

Direct democracy and rule of the people may sound nice and populist but would it be practical? We must not forget the majority of India lives in villages or small towns…. Citizens with no legal expertise may champion causes leading to drafting of poor laws. Majorities can have the potential to hurt minority groups…. National security decisions cannot be jingoistic and decided unwisely…. Lastly, the citizen might take decisions mostly where there is a popular feeling and they benefit financially, even if the economics are wrong.


Shazia Ilmi

Aam Aadmi Party politician

We’ve seen two urban stirrings in the last two-and-a-half years — the Anna Hazare andolan and the outrage on the Nirbhaya case. And these two extremely important people’s movements changed the national consciousness on very serious issues in our country. One is corruption and one is women’s safety... and our attitude towards patriarchy.... From an enraged citizenry we have to become an engaged citizenry. We have to go out there and remind our politicians — and if need be even recall them — to do their jobs, that they must reflect the will of the people.




Let’s take General saab’s contention. In a government run directly by the people, it should be very clear that the army has no business when the people of India do not want it to have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, they have the licence to kill and rape without any kind of a comeback from justice. If you are punishing someone who is a wrongdoer, someone who has committed a rape in Kashmir or in Nagaland, it should not be a matter of national shame, it should be a matter of national honour…. That is what a government run directly by the people would have achieved. Unfortunately, we lost our way.

Women are being attacked in the streets under all governments but in this entire election, nobody is discussing the rights of women as a gender issue. We’re not discussing human rights, we are not discussing environmental rights, we are discussing Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. This is not government or election run directly by the people.


smriti irani

BJP Rajya Sabha MP

I am indebted to The Telegraph, for while Ms Meera Sanyal today speaks about our Parliament which has less than 11 per cent of female representation, The Telegraph, at least, allows a debate to be moderated by a woman, allows a debate to be begun by a woman and allows a debate to be ended by a lady.

I am of the belief that when governance fails, it compels us to question the virtues of democracy…. Ms Meera Sanyal spoke about the 15th Lok Sabha and how dysfunctional it was, how it limited itself to just one year of productive work but also acknowledged that when a good government was in place, Parliament functioned five times better.

Swaraj is a dream that every Indian is born with but I am of the belief that for poorna swaraj, you need poorna shiksha, for poorna swaraj, you need poorna swasthya, for poorna swaraj, you need poorna suraksha.

Who were the three best speakers at the Calcutta Club The Telegraph National Debate 2014? Tell