'Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted.'
Saturday 15 November 2014
Whatever happened to the great debate?
6 November 2014 BBC World invited three
panellists from different sectors to debate on
‘A New India: Free, Fair and Prosperous’ as part of the World
Issues of content and objectivity apart, one still has high
expectations of a group like BBC when it comes to setting high
standards of form. But this ‘debate’ fell flat on its face on all counts.
rules of the game
would think that in a discussion like this all three panellists would
bring in varied viewpoints due to their specialization in their
individual sectors. However, if one wants to quote either the
minister or the corporate voice in the debate, it would require
constant rechecking to distinguish who said what. Of course businesses and governments need not always be in conflict with each
other. But this smooth overlapping can be dangerous if those who are
to be at the receiving end of this coalition between corporate bodies
and governing bodies get completely left out. So for all practical
purposes, instead of having three distinct voices, the format of the
session (to keep calling it a debate would be to perpetuate technical
erroneousness) was two against one. The yesmanship resulting out of
this format naturally dulled the sparkling energy any debate worth
its salt should have.
terms of an outline, the talk failed to meet its own description. Theissues
to be discussed had
been listed on the website as:
Balancing growth with development to reduce inequality
Improving governance and transparency
Upholding political and religious rights
any time or importance was given to the last point. Even with regard
to the first two, when questions were raised by the activist, they
were dismissed as non-existent issues. For instance, in response to
the activist’s question about religious tensions, the minister said
there is no such thing in the country, despite the very
of communal violence in
Trilokpuri, Delhi. He also insisted that ‘Dalit’ is an
unnecessary adjective and that the government will remove all caste
divisions, at the same time refusing to recognize them. One can go on
picking up several such superficial statements and proving how they
do not hold water. But to question unbacked claims and probe deeper
during the debate, if only through pointing the already raised
rebuttals in the right direction, was the moderator’s job and he
chose not to do it, except in passing.
we forgotten to listen as an audience?
members of the audience, we have our task cut out for us: to listen, and when we are sure we have heard it right, to ask relevant
questions. Look before you leap, think before you speak. Someone had
put it that simply for us. But we manage to screw up even this simple
task. The worst crime scene exhibiting the murder of articulated
thought is Twitter. Stomach this excerpt from the debate and a
Roy (in the debate): ‘The
other India is unhappy . . . distressed with a whole spate of
promises which are being retracted . . . beginning with a promise of
keeping the works programme [NREGA] . . . putting back labour laws .
Pahwa @nixxinhypocritical of Aruna Roy to complain about lack of jobs & then complain about
the current governments [sic] business focus.
and oranges? Since when did ‘government’s business focus’ start
meaning the same thing as ‘jobs for the rural poor and safeguarding
of labour laws’? In fact, a ‘business focus’ means exactly the opposite.
debate was in English for a global audience. Rural India was being
discussed by a platform in which they could not participate. On an
occasion like this representation of their voices becomes as
important as the person in office. (With regard to the government’s
work in rural India, the minister could only mention the Jan Dhan
Yojna, which, one
hears, isn't really in the pink.)
No one activist or civil society group can claim to solely represent
all of India’s poor. But those who have worked in rural India for a
substantial period of time on particular issues are a more direct
source of information than others.
lack of accessibility and representation also applies to minorities
or dissenting groups, increasingly being targeted. Yet if an activist
working with these groups or if a member of any such group speaks
out, they are instantly branded as the perpetual malcontent. The
debate was a mere microcosm of how constructive critique is being
illogically refuted using reductionist stereotypes. This notion of
dissent as being something obstructive, as minister Piyush Goyal
called it, cannot further the cause of any government that truly
intends to cater to the interests of all of India. It was said that
merely pointing out the problems is not enough. But legislations like
RTI and NREGA were solutions envisaged by the people suffering from
the lack of information and employment themselves, processes that the
civil society has been an active and long-standing part of. Laws hard
won after years of dialogue and persuasion cannot be sacrificed in a
democracy to the caprice of changing governments. It is not a matter
of changing the curtains of a newly acquired office.
deliberate dismissal of strong factual and on-ground evidence, much
of which often comes from the government’s own records, is
irrational and prejudiced. The concern of grassroots workers is
conveniently dismissed as emotion and rhetoric, though to be
completely dispassionate about the issues you are invested in shouldn't really add to your credibility. If representation is an
issue, the government is welcome to take the debate to ground zero:
to the rural workers who fear unemployment; to the victims of riots;
to the villages whose land was forcibly acquired; to the women
forcibly separated from their interreligious partners.
did not get independent for a section of the people. These voices
being snuffed out will lead to extreme distress and its consequences.
If we go on dismissing their pleas, and demand a sacrifice of their
lives, even the so-called development would not take place. We need a
peaceful society for progress. The persistence that they must pay the
cost of ‘development’, whose rewards others reap, cannot be heard
in passivity in the era of mobile phones and TVs. People hear
election promises and read manifestos. Their articulation is vital.
They should be able to decide how much time they want to give to the
government, to articulate whether these five months of governance
have been too short or too long for them.
and injustice are suffered, not taught. Hunger, unemployment,
displacement, unfair indictment, communal, casteist and gender-based
violence are felt and lived by people everyday. The repeated
accusation that civil society is stirring discontent underestimates
the power of these unheard voices. It is a negation of the ordinary
Indian’s intelligence and sensitivity.