The Telegraph
Monday , March 10 , 2014
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Advantage national parties

Patna, March 9: The House was united, almost. The national parties got absolute majority to lead India.

After a keenly contested verbal duel at The Telegraph Bihar Debate 2014, the motion “In the opinion of the House, regional parties have the vision to lead India” was defeated today. The House gave the national parties the “mandate” to rule.

Close on the heels of Lok Sabha elections, the fourth edition of The Telegraph Bihar debate had a tinge of politics.

Eight eminent personalities, divided into two groups, matched each other word-for-word. The side speaking for the motion got the laughs but the other side won the war of words.

Batting for the regional parties were Harivansh, the editor-in-chief of the Prabhat Khabar group and a recent entrant into the Rajya Sabha from the JD(U), Manoj Jha, the national spokesperson of the RJD, Basant Kumar Choudhary, the legal eagle representing the Aam Aadmi Party, and Prasenjit Bose, economist from the Left though he is not associated with any political grouping at present.

Pitted against them were Meenakshi Lekhi, an advocate and the national spokesperson of the BJP, Prem Chandra Mishra, the media in-charge of Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee, Alok Dhanwa, a poet and social commentator who sprang to fame during the JP Movement, and Barkha Dutt, the group editor of NDTV and one of the country’s respected journalists.

The audience — the argumentative Biharis — were there in full strength.

“It is quite a feat that The Telegraph brought the Congress and the BJP on the same side,” said one, as Meenakshi and Mishra were both arguing against the motion.

The rise of the regional parties has become a feature of electoral politics since the late 1980s. But when The Telegraph’s roving editor Sankarshan Thakur, the moderator, asked the audience who had won, the show of hands was overwhelmingly for team Barkha, Meenakshi, Dhanwa and Mishra.

Harivansh, the veteran journalist opened the debate in favour of the motion by attacking the Congress and the BJP for their top-down approach and lack of regional base. He cited examples of regional parties’ several policy models, including midday meal in Tamil Nadu and employment guarantee scheme in Maharashtra.

“The social justice and development model of the incumbent government in Bihar is equally praiseworthy and needs to be replicated at the national-level,” said Harivansh.

Mishra, the next to take guard, started with his argument against the motion emphasising on the “right to equality with equal approach” policy of the Congress. He then moved on to criminalisation of politics, squarely blaming the regional parties for giving shelter to people having dubious antecedents.

Basant was the next to bat. He opened his account by attacking the Congress for promoting dynasty politics. “Congress believes that only a special family should hold power and the PM (Prime Minister) should be from that family only.”

The audience was all praise when Basant said: “I congratulate (Narendra) Modi for overpowering the national leaders despite being a regional leader.”

Dhanwa, the next on the pitch, used his poetic skills to counter the motion. Prasenjit, the next to take guard, was at his aggressive best right from the beginning.

He launched a withering attack on the two leading national parties — the Congress and the BJP. He claimed that Modi was not an alternative to the Congress.

Taking over the baton from Prasenjit, Meenakshi thanked Basant and Prasenjit for making Modi an answer to every question. She concluded acknowledging that regional parties were a reality but emphasised the importance of national parties in running the country.

Next on wicket was the RJD spokesperson, Manoj. He said: “Regional parties have emerged in sync with the diversity of India.”

Journalist Barkha Dutt, one of the most awaited speakers, was in next.

Armed with statistics, she showed the inverse relationship between the vote share and seat share of the regional parties over the years.

“Regional parties are supposed to be federal watchdogs but they tend to cannibalise each other and cannot be brought on the same platform. The issue of dynasty plagues more in the regional parties,” she said.