Making It Happen
“Deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of our democracy.” – Jesse Jackson
There are seven elements which can fuel the rise of debating in India.
First, there needs to be a simple app which can allow people to join or view a debate. The fun lies in watching debates live. So, it almost needs to work like a two-sided market – debaters who get connected with each other through the app, and then the viewers who watch, cheer and vote. Debates can be 1:1 or between teams. To start with, an array of topics can be listed and debaters can express their interest. It is like playing online games against strangers over the Internet. Alternately, a duo or quartet can schedule their debate, and then attract an audience.
Second, the best snippets from the debates need to be edited and amplified via social media. This will create the content factory to counter the propaganda and fake news that is so filling our inboxes. People should be able to see the two sides of the issue, and then decide for themselves. This will also create the debating stars, who will generate their own followers. This is very similar to what happened on Tiktok. The debating app needs to become the new Tiktok to create celebrities out of the best debaters.
Third, make debates as a core element of education, as proposed in Robert Litan’s book. It will make education more exciting and also inculcate the discipline of debating early in kids. It will encourage them to listen to the other side and structure their own thoughts in a coherent manner. In short, a debate-centred education will better prepare them for the real world.
Fourth, there is a need to create leagues, competitions, clubs and societies at multiple levels. This could be in schools, colleges and neighbourhoods. The competitive spirit brings out the best in people. Given that all this is going to happen via the app, it doesn’t have to wait till schools and colleges start. Here too, the lead can be taken from the world of games – and how they have fostered celebrities and communities. If prize money can be found, this can make the entire process even more attractive for participants.
Fifth, we need to make debates mandatory for all electoral contests. People have a right to see and hear the candidates whom they are being asked to vote for in an interactive format. Today, all we can do is to watch them at rallies or in friendly stage-managed interviews. They never have to face their opponents in a debate. This needs to change.
Sixth, the same idea of debating can be applied within corporates also. For key decisions, it would be good to set up teams to argue on both sides of the issue in a structured manner. Many times, it is the ones who speak with loudest who tend to rule the day. What a debate does is to level the playing field – providing all speakers a ‘right of way’ to speak uninterrupted to make their points. A debating culture will help create more openness and better decisions within corporates.
Finally, all of us need to do what I am doing with my group of friends – start a weekly circle of friends with whom we can debate on issues. Instead of just passing around messages on WhatsApp, we all need to become participants. It will be a learning experience – as we think and put forth our points. Our private conversations will be richer embellished by the spirit of debate.
A debating culture can thus be one of the key pillars for building a better discourse, an open society and lead the political and economic revolution India needs.