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On the 16th April, I saw new evidence of involvement by the educated and intellectual class, in what is beginning to increasingly feel like a very different election season! This new ‘thing’ was a debate between four candidates of the Bangalore South Parliamentary constituency – a debate before a packed audience of more than 1000 odd people including a large number of IT professionals, in a swanky new auditorium belonging to an Infosys, which was let out first time for such an occasion. Similar debates are taking place in Mumbai and many other cities where voters are interested in involvement and informing themselves firsthand about the candidates.
The candidates truly reflected the changing nature of our politics. There was a sitting BJP candidate Ananthkumar (whom I have endorsed by way of disclosure), Congress Candidate Krishna Byre Gowda on the Congress plank, Dr Radhakrishan of JD-S , standing on a plank of regional aspirations and Capt Gopinath – and independent candidate fighting on the plank of being an anti-politician!
The debate was a first for me! I went as a skeptic – anticipating one of those typical political events – of rancor, bitterness and name calling and discussion about everything but the substantive issues facing us – of the form that we have seen recently between our top ‘leaders’ and parties.
But I and the crowd of the 1100 were in for a surprise and a very good one at that! The four candidates performed extremely well. The moderator – Harish Bijoor a resident of Bangalore did well – probing and posing a mix of tough and easy questions to each of the four candidates – and always keeping them from meandering into the wonder-world of slogans and rhetoric.
The candidates themselves did stray into small forgivable moments of political grandstanding! But in general all four could outline their visions for country and constituency – and found their support within groups and parts of the audience! At the end of it all, when all four candidates lifted their hands together and shook hands and smiled for photographs together, it struck me that Bangalore South was fortunate to have four good candidates and indeed be miles away from Delhi and the rancor and hostility that prevents consensus on any issue, a civil debate on issues and indeed distorts the political debate altogether.
There have been suggestions for a debate face-off between the two Prime Ministerial candidates and I strongly believe, it’s in the interest of our democracy that leaders engage in a debate – which is why a Dr Manmohan Singh vs. LK Advani debate would have been great for the Indian voter and Indian Democracy! I gather there is some worry on part of Dr Singh to engage in a debate. I genuinely hope he gets over it and that before the voting is over, Indians do get a chance to observe a debate between the people who want to be our leaders. This is the right thing for these leaders to do – to offer all of us an opportunity to hear them faceoff in a civilized manner!