SCS debates: Mere sound and fury

SCS debates: Mere sound and fury

Like a meandering sea, the issue of Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh is taking many twists and turns. While political parties have converted the subject of special category into an election issue, the media is having gala time by hosting hours of discussion on the subject – whether the audience likes it or not. 

Like a meandering sea, the issue of Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh is taking many twists and turns. While political parties have converted the subject of special category into an election issue, the media is having gala time by hosting hours of discussion on the subject – whether the audience likes it or not.

The political parties are literally turning the discussions into a platform to unleash their campaign and verbally attack their opponents. Interestingly, what used to be one-hour long discussions on important subjects in the past are now eating into all other programmes including news bulletins and the entire air time is being used for almost day-long heated deliberations. Some political parties have even constituted special teams of subject experts and only they are authorised to participate in the discussions, by raising pitch for their forceful views.

However, it would have been interesting if all these fierce polemics could yield some result. Alas, they are proving to be no more than a cacophony of discordant notes. The talks mostly turn out to be blabbering, at times degenerating into volleys of bitter criticism and crossing the levels of decency.

Rather than come up with any sensible or logical conclusions, the discussions centre round scoring one-upmanship – I am right, all others are wrong. No one is willing to debate on the basis of facts or logic. Everyone wants to show the other person in poor light.

I do not know if such discussions would really help in improving the popularity of the participant or the political party that he represents, but I feel that it surely adds to noise pollution. The moderator who conducts the debates is expected to ask and link the questions along with the answers given by the personalities and analyse it with current or previous issues, so as to throw up a new point for participants to throw their light upon it. The least the participants can do is carry out some research on the topic on hand before batting for their party stance.

They are expected to be abreast of all the background material before taking up discussions. But what one observes, of late, is that most of the channels are either owned by political parties or have political leanings towards one party or the other. As a result, the anchors who are supposed to facilitate the discussion, adopt aggressive mode and most of the time they try to steer the debate, veering to the conclusions already arrived at beforehand. Many a time they do the most of talking, and don’t even allow the guests to speak up or clarify on charges levelled against them. Thus, it essentially comes down to some mode of interrogation.

The viewers often find themselves at a loss as participants fail to add any wisdom to the task on hand, and, they wonder what the import of all such babble is about. Curse they will all the word-spinners of the day. Bombarding viewers with such gabbles, day in and day out, the channels are in fact doing disservice to so important an issue to the people of Andhra Pradesh. Ever since the special category issue took the turn of political parties and groups versus the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre, I have been watching the discussions, hoping to get some ‘gyan’ on various issues that the talks revolve around.

I must confess, at the end of these discussions, I am no less confused than the audience is. The reason: The speakers go on repeating what happened in 2014 in Parliament during the passage of the AP State Re-Organisation Act and the latter developments. While the BJP charges the opposition with stalling the just-concluded budget session of Parliament, thereby denying the public an opportunity of hearing what the government proposes on several crucial issues, the opposition alleges it was the union government that pre-empted any discussions for fear of drawing opposition flak on the Special Category promise it made to the Andhra people.

For example, in one such debate, a BJP leader Vishnuvardhan Reddy reeled out certain details pertaining to the funds released by the Centre and alleged that the Government of Andhra Pradesh had taken a U-turn on the SCS issue for narrow political considerations, and demanded that the government issue a white paper on the amount of funds received from the Centre and their expenditure details. He said the state government had failed to set up an SPV and hence the money promised could not be transferred to the state by the Centre. This sparked protests by the TDP representative who said the BJP never made the SPV mandatory and that it was just a suggestion.

The rancor continues, with him alleging that Modi had promised many things at the Tirupati meeting before 2014 elections and all that the State got was a pot of water and mud. Even before he concludes, the BJP leader refutes the charges and the TDP leader Bonda Uma goes on blasting the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also slams YSRCP for not attending Assembly or the all-party meeting.

Soon, the verbal duel veers out of way to observation that the resignations from Lok Sabha were only a move to save their leader Y S Jaganmohan Reddy and bail him out of the cases he is facing. Of course, this rant is matched by the opponents, and it comes to such a pass that no stops yelling at their top of voice. The moderator tries to intervene, but in vain.

The only recourse he takes to is announce that they would resume the debate after a commercial break. Of course, thereafter, he lobs another contentious viewpoint at them and all hell breaks loose. The audience is no wiser at the end, than when the debate kicks off.

Whether it is the common man or the or the participant in the debates, everyone knows that Centre is not going to react and that Modi would continue his stoic silence on the issue. As such, the discussions are no more than election speeches. Failing to take forward their contentions from their stated positions, for umpteenth time, the debaters merely indulge in sparring, throwing challenges at one another.

Moderators’ job primarily appears to let their favourites have the most soundbites. I was shocked to hear a question a moderator posed to a participant “Why did you not support YSRCP Deeksha?” and even before the guest could reply, he went on making a statement as if he was representative of the opposition party and did not allow the leaders to respond and the discussion got derailed.

Suddenly, the topic changes and the BJP leaders allege that TDP had violated the Constitution by encouraging defections. This invites a retort saying that the BJP has no moral right to talk about defections as it had done the same in many states where it came to power after 2014. In the ‘Tu Tu Me me,’ the real issue gets drowned.

There are also occasions when the participants start shooting questions as if they are the moderators and don’t allow the anchors to speak. Of late, the BJP leaders who have been facing the heat most have started bringing laptops and are reeling out figures which Amit Shah mentioned in his letter to AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

Now the big question is whether there is any evidence that performance in debates has any bearing on eventual decisions to be taken by the governments or on the outcome of elections itself? Generally, it seems it is going to be neither. Other countries, predominately the US, have a much longer history of televised political debates before a general election.

But, they are better organised and the outcome meets expectations of audience for better understanding of the issue. But, what we are witnessing is beating about the bush, and get earful of soundbites. Let us hope in the days to come, we will be wiser than we are now, and that wranglers would bring forth enlightening opinions, and make some lasting impact on the viewers.

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