The Telegraph
Sunday , February 16 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

Voters, remember girlfriend test
The day simplicity tear-gassed fancy jargon


"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!"


I am a boy from north Calcutta, we had paras. We used to go and ask everyone how to do the Durga Puja, and how to do our musical functions. That’s the way everybody was involved, each and every one for the para. Then time changed. Locality mein naye log aa gaye, they did not have the same spirit. 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?

If suddenly people rise and say that they want to run a government, it will be like playing an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match.

To run something you need someone, and that someone you choose. You choose and you be careful, but can you really run a government?

Just when we thought that Arvind Kejriwal had performed the last rites for direct governance, the issue was revived in all its potency at The Telegraph National Debate 2014 at Calcutta Club this evening.

Calcutta’s appetite for arguments is insatiable, reflected in the packed house of over 2,000 on a cool February evening. At stake was the motion, “The government should be run directly by the people”. The panel was almost balanced both in persona and gender. Three women speakers with Nidhi Razdan in the chair.

Meera Sanyal opened the innings for the proposition. She was composed both in her poise and her repertoire of grim statistics, as to how wasteful the 15th Lok Sabha has been. With less than a fifth of the time used in effective governance. As crucial legislation was delayed, the salaries and wages bill was passed in two days! Most of the young Turks were actually hanging from the coat tails of nepotism. She aptly defined a public servant as one who treats the public as servants once the elections were over.

Biting as it was in the critique of the present lethargic system, it was weakened by the lack of definition of direct governance. The house was kept waiting.

Derek O’Brien was expecting to be greeted by the warmth of being on home turf. He touched a raw nerve early on, in justifying the tearing hurry in which the salaries bill was passed. To emphasise the decisiveness in governance, he time and again quoted the moving of Writers’ to Nabanna. In fact, he started the trend of the entrenched politicians each paying their quota of homage to their respective deities.

Derek wound up with the emphasis on the people trusting the representative. But what if that trust was betrayed? In some ways, his opening was like missing the penalty kick in the opening minutes of a match. The rest of the opposition had a job on their hands.

Sanjay Jha, though comfortably seated, was as comfortable with the proposition as the heir apparent was in the televised interview. He quickly assumed a shrill electoral pitch to fill up the “deficit of optimism”. His points on the fallibility of referendum-based populism were well taken, but it was a resounding same-side goal. Not to be outdone on “display of loyalty”, he did refer to “a certain young man” conducting party primaries in the back of beyond. Is it that hard to conscript Congress candidates?

Nidhi’s firmness with time ended his uncomfortable defence of the indefensible.

So, if Derek had missed a penalty, so did Sanjay and the debate was back on an even keel.

It was the turn of General J.J. Singh to defend the opposition. True to his focus on the army, he argued against handing over decisions of war and aggression to the masses. If you asked the common man, then you had to go to war across the border umpteen times a year! “Thok do…” would be the public demand, as he put it.

Shazia Ilmi, perhaps unintentionally, personified emotion without destination. She was very clear on taking the non-functioning and corrupt governance head on, but the cry to storm the establishment was devoid of methods. True to the AAP doctrine, the mohallasabhas were upheld as a panacea for all evil. She was very aware of being labelled an anarchist, but did she do enough to dispel that?

As soon as her “Seize it...” clarion call ended, Nidhi interjected with a telling comment: “Is the majority always right?” Not very often does a spontaneous remark from the chair puncture the proposition in the way it did.

The best was reserved till the end. Mithunda (Chakraborty) was, according to popular wisdom, in the panel for his star value. How true… his simplicity and sincerity had the effect of tear gas on the plethora of fancy jargon that was in the air. If factions find it impossible to govern a para... how do you manage a country? A responsible parent... listens to all the children and then decides… does not give in to every demand.

At last, we seem to have made a wise choice for the Rajya Sabha… by intention or default.

He was as charming as he was sensible, so much so the otherwise stern Nidhi allowed him an extra minute. The most unlikely, but very deserving, showstopper for the evening.

Ruchir Joshi had a tough act to follow. Made tougher still by the fact he would not stoop to intellectual dishonesty, an essential vice in debating. He teleported us to an India where Lal Bahadur Shastri would continue as the Prime Minister and none of the dynastic monstrosities would be enacted. Wish it were true. He took an effective hit at Derek with Nabanna and thereafter focused on issues that should be paramount in a democracy.

Winding up the debate was Smriti Irani for the opposition. She braved a viral fever and put up a gallant performance. Not missing a jibe at any of her adversaries, she harped on the merits of firm governance… did she have anyone particular in mind? She ended by referring to the act of political deceit by a certain gentleman in a muffler with a perpetual viral affliction (“convenient cough”).

What did we miss? Summing up would have been hilarious.

The proposition with their inner conflicts was not cohesive enough. There was no consensus as to what direct governance meant. Without which you would be a sitting duck for the opponents. Strange but true that neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi was directly mentioned even once.

A lot was said but the Mithun magic prevailed. Calcutta Club was singularly unimpressed with the proposition. We await the electorate in a few months from now.

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