Quality of public debate has deteriorated, feels Chidambaram

New Delhi: New divisive demands like ‘say Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘don’t question’ the ‘surgical strike’ or demonetisation raised last year saw the quality of public debate deteriorating, according to Congress leader P Chidambaram.

The former Union finance minister says this in his new book ‘Fearless in Opposition, Power and Accountability’.

“In 2016, the quality of public debate deteriorated. Apart from the usual pernicious campaigns (ghar wapsi, love jihad, etc.), new divisive demands were raised: say Bharat Mata ki Jai, don’t question the ‘surgical strike’ by the Army, don’t question demonetisation and so on,” he writes in the book’s introduction.

“Few pause to reflect on the damage done by these self-appointed commissars to the democratic system which is founded on the principle of dialogue, debate and dissent. That reviled Bushism – ‘are you with me or are you against me’ – seems to have found a home in India,” he wrote.

The book is a compilation of essays published as a weekly column in The Indian Express newspaper.

“Another year in the Opposition in 2016, and part of the year as a member of the Rajya Sabha, gave me greater opportunity and freedom to comment on current affairs, and the output is this collection of 54 columns – one on every Sunday of the 52 weeks of the year, a special column immediately after the terrorist attack on the Air Force Station at Pathankot and one after the presentation of the Budget,” he writes.

He goes on to add: “Writing a column is fraught with risks. Instant judgements could turn out to be terribly wrong.

The actors in an event may have the power to change the narrative or reinterpret the event. Yet, the writer must write every week. He will pause, reflect on an event, gather the facts, commit his thoughts to paper and be prepared for any eventuality. I did precisely that through 2016.”

Chidambaram says as a member of the Opposition, his primary task is to perform the role of the Opposition in a democracy. This is the reason why he calls the collection ‘Fearless in Opposition: Power and Accountability’.

In the book’s foreword, former RBI governor Raghuram G Rajan writes, “To would-be reformers in India, Mr Chidambaram offers very useful advice in his article on economic freedom in India – instead of starting with the rules and regulations as they are, which usually means a nightmare of patches and fixes with the rationales buried in files in the deepest recesses of government, why not start with maximum freedom, and then put in only the regulations that are absolutely necessary?”.

“I can think of many candidates for this zero-based regulationÂ… During my time at the RBI, we managed to streamline the rule book, but as India becomes more confident of its external position, more root-and-branch reform may be wise,” he added.