Now We Are Talking
The Sikkim Chronicles’ endeavour to bring political parties to a debating platform is commendable. The debate on ‘One Family One Job’ (henceforth in this article OFOJ) was a very timely one. Kabita Shamra as a moderator at this time in Sikkim media history looks exceedingly good for at least two reasons. One – a female moderator for a political debate in Sikkim is indicative of the degree of feminine involvement in Sikkim politics, which is much higher than it is in the rest of India. Two, her soft and complaisant mode is much needed for a debating culture in its formative years. She has not yet presented herself as a typically merciless, pugnacious moderator, hopelessly inclined to egging on one against the other with a view to creating chaos on the screen. It is hoped that as she matures in the job she will begin to pepper debaters with tough questions rather than being fully complacent with the questions asked by the debaters only.
The biggest positive from the debate is the manner in which they debated. Unlike our national TV debates where angry debaters talk over top of each other, pointing nasty fingers and often even exchanging a volley of nasty personal tirades, they debated in a civilized and affable manner. Sikkim is culturally a non-debating society and the endeavours of these young people will certainly be valuable in helping the state to evolve into a debating society. It is to be hoped that their civilized discussion will teach some nasty Facebook tigers a lesson – for people concerned about political and social issues, grace is a better virtue than anger.
Let me start with a caveat. Three debaters – namely Kabita Subba (SDF), Jacob Khaling (SKM) and Tirtha Sharma (HSP) are young budding politicians who are just learning and they are not ivory tower intellectuals. Nor am I claiming that my critique is top-notch scholarship. We are all learning. Despite their short stint with politics and no debating experience, they tried their best to defend their positions in the best manner possible.
Kabita Subba, thoroughly a ladylike and polite debater used the advantage of good vocabulary to give the debate a good start. From what we saw, she seems to be both passionate and articulate about her party’s ideological posture. She articulated the context of the OFOJ fluently, explaining with great confidence how it was a logical outworking of her party’s commitment to fulfil public aspirations which are directly linked with government jobs. She also backed it up with her party-led government’s track record of expanding government employment opportunities during the last 24 years. She was perhaps the best listener in the debate. But some of her answers seemed a little too wordy and a few comments sounded a bit too preachy. Her weakest point was to say that there was no need for any ordinance (niyam) for regulating the scheme as everything was going smoothly. This is an immature comment.
Jacob Khaling was arguably the best of the three in terms of oratory skill. Unlike his public speeches, he sounded non-aggressive. Confidence is his strength which he displayed even while tricking Kabita Subba with a smartly told lie. First, he said that the scheme of one job for each BPL family was not mentioned in the SDF’s manifesto. Later, when Kabita Subba almost conceded it, he pulled out the SDF manifesto and read a line which says that every BPL family will be given a government job. That came across as a below the belt, childish and dishonest trick which only helped him score a brownie point. His strongest point was the need to convert the “One Family One Job” scheme into an Act. However, he let his guard down when he said that Sikkim has enough resources to pay the salaries for these new jobs. He informed us that Sikkim generates enough money from its Hydropower and Pharmaceutical companies. He admitted by default that the Chamling-led government’s decision to implement the OFOJ was rational and there was enough revenue to pay their salaries. Also, it was an admission of the fact that Sikkim has attained self-reliance by way of the establishment of hydropower and pharmaceutical companies. In his declamation, he ended up resorting to self-contradictory reasoning.
Tirtha Sharma started well. He came up with some good questions which certainly added value to the debate. He did not miss the opportunity to take credit for the implementation of OFOJ, stating that it was his party’s idea. However, his argument that OFOJ was an election stunt was not well thought through simply because, if the government really fails to pay their salaries after two months before the general election, it would be like SDF shooting itself in the foot. He repeated this point far too many times, wasting opportunities to strengthen his argument with other comments. He looked a bit zoned out later and bungled things with an utterly foolish reasoning that because the incumbent CM is above 65, he could be physically and mentally abnormal. He invoked science to back up his foolish comment without batting an eyelid. This was an angry and bitter diatribe against a Chief Minister that his party is desperate to unseat. By extension, he is suspecting the physical and mental soundness of all seniors, his party members included, and has banished them to irrelevance. That was the lowest point of the debate. His overemphasis on the pro-youth stance of Hamro Sikkim Party must be cut down a bit for another reason – politics must be more inclusive than that.
I personally do not think that political debate in Sikkim has any electoral significance as of yet. In other words, people in this state do not make judgements on the basis of the arguments placed by the arguers in such formal debates. This is, however, a part of a larger political campaign of the political parties. And an honest political debate will help people understand the issues better which will increase voters’ knowledge on the defining issues of the election. This is a good way to hold politicians accountable and therefore we must take utmost advantage of its democratic utility. It also brings the attitudinal and behavioural temperaments of politicians and their parties to the fore for public judgement. Debates certainly enrich the electoral process in particular and politics in general.
“Political debate in Sikkim does not have any electoral significance as of yet as people in this state do not make judgements on the basis of the arguments placed by the arguers in such formal debates. This is, however, a part of a larger political campaign. Also, an honest political debate will increase voters’ knowledge on the defining issues of the election. This is a good way to hold politicians accountable and therefore we must take utmost advantage of its democratic utility.”