Finally all the players are in place and Delhi is ready for the last act of the most fascinating elections in a generation to play out. Personalities and media sensationalism aside, the contrast between the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party could not be more clear-cut and the voters have a fateful decision to make in the next fortnight. A debate between Chief-Ministerial candidates of AAP and BJP would certainly help voters in making up their minds.
Ever since the televised Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates of 1960, election debates between leadership candidates of the main political parties have become a staple of democracies in most parts of the world, even in the home of Westminster democracy, but the world’s largest democracy has been a conspicuous hold out. It is a particularly glaring anomaly considering how fast television news has boomed in India in the last decade, especially the transformation of the evening news into nightly bouts of verbal warfare.
In the absence of leaders challenging each other face-to-face the voter is left to rely on unintelligible skirmishes between party spokespersons and the point of view of an increasingly partisan media universe, where certain parties, leaders, and issues can be blanked out for months on end without the recourse of appeal. No real debates seem to take place in Parliament and state legislatures anymore with proceedings becoming increasingly fractious. So it is time India breaks out of this electoral straitjacket and what better time than elections in the nation’s capital to kick off this new tradition of leadership debates. Let the untested and unchallenged political rhetoric of Indian elections be put through the crucible of a debate and let voters see for themselves which candidate is speaking credibly from hard-won experience and which candidate is spouting unsubstantiated inanities.
Arvind Kejriwal has taken the lead and made the offer to Kiran Bedi, a debate between Delhi’s two main Chief Ministerial Candidates, moderated by a neutral person and telecast by all. Will Ms Bedi accept the challenge? She seems uncharacteristically reluctant, but the voters of Delhi, and India, certainly hope she rises to the challenge.