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London Eye: Stick to debate or debate with sticks

London Eye: Stick to debate or debate with sticks

London Eye: Stick to debate or debate with sticks
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By Sanjay Suri  Jan 10, 2020 1:03:12 PM IST (Published)

Sanjay Suri recalls the healthy and civilised debates held in schools and on campuses in India in the 70s.

‘This House believes that the British Raj was good for India…’ That suggestion was debated a while back in the grand chamber of the Supreme Court in Britain even if this wasn’t a Supreme Court debate; that was only the impressive venue. Among those arguing for the motion was William Dalrymple; among those on the other side, Shashi Tharoor. Neither of the two turned up stick in hand, the agreement that did not need to be declared was to stick to debate. This took place with the usual rules, and in the end the audience voted. The motion was defeated. Dalrymple still didn’t pick up a stick.

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No lesson needed to be learnt from this debate. Back in school and on campus at Delhi Universities debates of the same civilised kind were held all the time on this proposal and that. There never was one on ‘This House believes it’s right to beat up anyone who disagrees with me…” All the beating that happened was within the debate. Disagreements were around then -- of the same kind. In 1974, Arun Jaitley from the ABVP won the Delhi University Students Union elections. On the other side enough lefties hung around on campuses, more visibly in JNU than on the Delhi University campus. The two sides didn’t much confront one another’s positions in formal debate. But an informal meeting ground was always the coffee house that always had more to teach than did classrooms, or just shared space on campus. We didn’t see many conversations around these differences, but not attacks over them either. Arun Jaitley never did lead an attack into the JNU campus.
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More serious forces lurked behind these campus views. The ABVP was a college-going youngster within the RSS family. The RSS brought images of lathis and paramilitary drills and of a worldview shared by the man who assassinated Gandhi. Behind the Lefties appeared images of Naxalites who would kill those they saw as agents of the state and enemies of their cause. And behind them, looking in the same ideological direction, sat the brutalities of leftist regimes in Russia, China, Cambodia and around the world. The legacy of the Left was not quite as progressive as its language.
But all this appeared only hazily in shadowy distance. On campus conflicting views turned up as only another kind of otherness; and otherness India has always offered more plentifully than any other. It seemed strange that those we inferred on the Delhi University campus to be some lesser cousins of the RSS were going around winning student elections when they should have been making fun of their teachers, or at least studying. In a different kind of strange, JNU was a place where jhola-bearers spoke with suspect passion against The System while they secretly prepared for IAS exams; if they failed the secret stayed, if they passed they were going to change the system from within. Most didn’t take either left or right very seriously. The rest of us would hang around, or ‘spare’ as we’d say, over cheap coffee and stale bondas to flirt in a seeking and mostly not finding way. In the half century of progress since then, why does this feel now like the most progressive ideology of all.
Corbyn’s laughable last
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – he still is that just about – has announced a tickling reshuffle in his shadow cabinet after leading the party to one of its worst ever defeats in an election. He’ll soon be gone, and not too soon for the party and its MPs who’d been campaigning for years for him to go. Corbyn resisted them with his sole virtue of sticking on regardless. Back in June 2016 Conservative prime minister David Cameron said in parliament it was really in his party’s interest for Cameron to stay, but that Corbyn should listen to his own MPs -- “For Heaven’s sake, man, go.” Cameron spoke more truly than he could have known then. It did turn out to be in the interest of the Conservative Party that Corbyn stayed; Labour was sunk more by its own leader than by Boris Johnson in this election gone. But Corbyn appears to have not noticed the election result.
As a part of his reshuffle Corbyn has appointed the Sikh MP from Slough Tan Dhesi his parliamentary private secretary with timing as impeccable as the appointment of a new first officer by a captain who has just wrecked his own ship. So Dhesi will now, for the next couple of months become the “eyes and ears” for Corbyn among his MPs. What could Dhesi’s eyes see among MPs from the party, or his ears hear? They could only say now even louder that they were right all along in saying Corbyn was leading the party to ruin. So if Dhesi tells Corbyn now what they are saying they always said, perhaps Corbyn will listen. Too late for him, and worse, too late for his party.
London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
Read his columns here.
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