Should Advani, Manmohan Singh Debate On TV?

Daredevil

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Should Advani, Manmohan Singh Debate On TV?

Politicians, happily evading hard-nosed queries till now, will have to open up

VIR SANGHVI
Whenever you have a discussion about presidential debates on television, somebody or the other will inevitably bring up the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960. By now that debate has passed into legend. According to folklore, Richard Nixon was comfortably ahead of John F. Kennedy when the two presidential contenders agreed to meet for a televised debate.

Judged purely on content, Nixon won the debate—or so the story goes. But television is a visual medium. Kennedy seemed cool and assured. Nixon had a sweaty upper lip. He was lit so that he looked like he was unshaven (what they call 5 o'clock shadow). Viewers went with the visuals, not the content. The telegenic Kennedy won. The more experienced and cerebral Nixon lost the debate and eventually, the election.

Those who tell this story make the point that TV is not about content or substance. It is about image and performance. The West may have fallen prey to the cult of televised politics. But fortunately, we in India can still avoid a situation where politicians are elected on the basis of TV ratings. And that's how it should remain.

Those who take this view argue that Manmohan Singh was right to reject L.K. Advani's offer of a televised debate. Why turn everything into a television event, they ask. Why not focus on old-fashioned campaigning and on issues of substance.

It's a powerful case but I don't necessarily buy it. First of all, the Kennedy-Nixon folklore is more myth than reality. Yes, Kennedy did look better but it's not clear that he won the debate. The polls were divided on who the actual victor was. Many said that Nixon had won. Moreover, that debate did not swing the election. In the event, Kennedy won by a tiny margin, almost entirely attributable to the votes that Mayor Richard Daley had stolen for him in Chicago's Cook County. Had the election been fair, Nixon might actually have won.

Nor do I believe that television necessarily favours the shallow and superficial at the expense of substance and depth. Take George W. Bush. You need only to watch him on TV to recognise that he is a moron. And yet, he ruled America for eight years in a tele-visual era.

The advantage of a television debate is that it allows voters to see where the candidates actually stand on the issues. At present, party spokesmen slug it out on news channels but the big leaders pass unchallenged.

Does Advani see no contradiction in supporting the legacy of Sanjay Gandhi while attacking the Congress for its undemocratic nature and its commitment to dynasty? Does Manmohan Singh regret his single-minded advocacy of the nuclear deal at so high a cost? Is Prakash Karat embarrassed that he has never won so much as a municipal election? Does Sonia Gandhi share Manmohan's commitment to economic liberalisation? Would she like to see Rahul as PM some day?

These are significant questions, the answers to which could determine India's destiny. But we never get these answers. We never find out where the truth really lies because these leaders appear only in controlled situations and rarely open themselves up to genuine, hard-nosed questioning.

Take Manmohan Singh. He must be the only prime minister of India to have never given a full-length interview to an Indian. (I don't include that brief comment about the Left and the nuclear deal to The Telegraph, made to serve his own political agenda.) Instead, he has spent five years giving interviews only to White people who he knows will not ask him questions on domestic politics he does not want to answer. Is it not shameful that the prime minister of India should shun any interviewer who is a citizen of his own country?

Sadly, our politicians avoid probing questions because they know they can get away with it.They are rarely questioned on the issues, never confronted with their contradictions and rarely asked to justify their actions. They like it that way. Manmohan is ready to leave the debates to Abhishek Singhvi and Kapil Sibal. Advani would much rather let Arun Jaitley do his dirty work for him.

A presidential-style debate would cut through this edifice of evasion. Our top politicians would be forced to explain their stands and to defend their positions. They will not be able to hide behind party spokesmen or to take refuge in enigmatic one-liners.

But of course, they'll never agree. The only reason why Advani has challenged Manmohan Singh to a debate is because he knows that the PM will never say yes and the debate will never happen. Advani is as reluctant to have his contradictions exploded as Manmohan is to explain himself.

So, they fall back on the old excuses: we don't have a presidential system; TV is a superficial medium; etc. And the people of India are denied the answers we deserve.

(Vir Sanghvi is Advisory Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times. For more articles by him, go to www.virsanghvi.com)

http://outlookindia.com/fullprint.asp?choice=1&fodname=20090420&fname=BCol+Vir+Sanghvi+(F)&sid=1
 

Daredevil

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What is wrong with closet politician 'Manmohan Singh'?, why is he so scared to have a debate with LK Advani. It will be clear for the people of country on where they stand on a variety of issues that this country faces. This will give the voters of India to form an opinion on who will be the strong leader to take our country forward.
 

kuku

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What is wrong with closet politician 'Manmohan Singh'?, why is he so scared to have a debate with LK Advani. It will be clear for the people of country on where they stand on a variety of issues that this country faces. This will give the voters of India to form an opinion on who will be the strong leader to take our country forward.
Advani ji will burn manmohan sahab in a debate on tv.

Have you ever watched that parliament channel......

The politicians dont like to debate its more like shouting till they can shout no more. :blum3:

It will be fun to do this though, however if it is done every party will insist on having their own candidate in the debate, other wise they will shout media favoritisms and start protests.
 

ShyAngel

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Oh my gosh, I would love to see the debate on tv!!!!
 

Daredevil

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Here is another view by former media adviser of PM Manmohan Singh

Should Advani, Manmohan Singh Debate On TV?


Blockers of Parliament debates, BJP hasn't the right to call for a TV show

SANJAYA BARU
Never before was a prime minister denied the right of reply in a debate on a motion of thanks to the President. Never before has a prime minister been prevented from defending his record in office in a debate on a motion of confidence. Manmohan Singh was at the receiving end of such grossly unfair treatment from an Opposition that turned every parliamentary debate into a duel. And now they want a television debate? Hah!

Parliament is the most sacred space for democratic debate in our country. But in the Fourteenth Lok Sabha the leader of the opposition, Lal Krishna Advani, made good use of his time to speak, and got his boisterous backbenchers to deny the prime minister his chance to reply, while he sat in stoic silence. For five years they disrupted Parliament. They treated this constitutional arena of democratic debate with contempt. And now they want a television debate? Wah!

No other prime minister of India has addressed as many press conferences around the country as Manmohan Singh. After Rajiv Gandhi, he was the first prime minister to address a national press conference in the mammoth Vigyan Bhavan auditorium, seated alone responding to over 500 journalists from all over the country and abroad. The media in every state capital from Mumbai to Bhubaneshwar and Panaji to Port Blair has had the opportunity to interact with this PM and ask him what they wished. And they say he is media-shy? Bah!

I think Dr Singh will do very well in a TV debate, as he has indeed done in parliamentary ones whenever he has allowed his adrenaline to flow! Moreover, at a time when the people of India want a wise, experienced and safe pair of hands to continue to steer the country through challenging and turbulent times, the quiet competence of Dr Singh, his wisdom and sagacity and his wealth of experience will shine through the TV cameras.

But what is the sanctity of a debate with Mr Advani? He has become the master of doublespeak. How does one debate with a mind in constant motion? I am not referring to the Jinnah observation. Recall his famous last words in the Lok Sabha on the 123 civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.

"I shall conclude my remarks by saying that 123 Agreement, as it stands, is unacceptable to the nation because it is deeply detrimental to India's vital and long-term interest. Let me say that hereafter if nda gets a mandate, we will renegotiate this deal to see that all the adverse provisions in it are either deleted or this treaty is rejected completely."

Renegotiate! Remember? That was November 28, 2007. Read the election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party for the 2009 elections. Search through its 16,000-plus words for a promise to 'renegotiate' the nuclear deal. Nahi hai, illay, leydoo! Not there.

So what does one make of a debate that consumed Parliament but has no bearing on BJP policy? If a debate is just about words, go feed it to the birds.

This TV debate controversy is making much of a muchness. This is not a presidential election. We are not voting a PM into office. That the members of the Lok Sabha will do. Our job is to get the right party in, so that the PM we want gets elected. At least with Congress and BJP we know who the PM will be. What about the alphabet soup fronts? Think about it. In 1996, we would have had Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee debating on TV, while Rip Van Deve Gowda would have woken up to become PM!

There is a larger point to be made as well. Populist TV in India has converted discussion into debate and debate into argument. I have always felt Amartya Sen has not served the cause of democracy in India well by glorifying our "argumentative" character.In fact the great Indian philosophical tradition was not one of point-scoring through argument, of declaring a winner and a loser. Debate and discussion are about the search for truth. Indians are as much consensus-seeking as argumentative. The panchayat was based on a consensual approach, not argumentative.

Adi Shankara, the great debater, sought debates not to demolish but to win over. That is our tradition. But our television has made political debate a gladiatorial sport. Indian television must create a new culture of reasoned discussion to feel entitled to host a debate in the prime ministerial stakes.

(Sanjaya Baru was till recently media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is now a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.)
 

Auberon

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Advani ji will burn manmohan sahab in a debate on tv.

Have you ever watched that parliament channel......

The politicians dont like to debate its more like shouting till they can shout no more. :blum3:

It will be fun to do this though, however if it is done every party will insist on having their own candidate in the debate, other wise they will shout media favoritisms and start protests.
One on one debate on a news channel is considerably different from debates in the parliament, Iv found Ravi Shankar Prasad, Arun Jetly from BJP and Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Kapil Sibal from Congress to be excellent debators, no surprise given all four are former lawyers.

Amongst the younger politicians, from the debates Iv seen, Sachin Pilot, Navin Jindal and Scindia are good, but none of them come even close to Omar Abdullah when it comes to content and presentation.
 

Auberon

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Here is another view by former media adviser of PM Manmohan Singh
Crappy article, totally one sided, the writer's objective is not so much to argue the pros and cons of a TV debate as to project Manmohan Singh as a masterful handler of the media and bash BJP. Its an opinion piece, not journalistic view.
 

Daredevil

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I know that the second was biased. It was to show what Congress thinks and how scared they are that Manmohan Sigh would fumble in the debate.
 

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