Kiran Bedi backing away from a good fight

Why her refusal to engage Kejriwal in a public debate smells of arrogance and presents our Democratic system from taking a big leap forward.

In an electoral system marred by money/muscle power, dynastic nepotism, cast equations and corruption; it indeed a rare development that Delhi is witnessing a direct contest between two candidates who are remarkably devoid of any of the above ‘electoral prerequisites’. On the contrary, Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal are the most educated, clean, erudite and passionate leaders Delhi could hope to have.

Kiran Bedi Arvind Kejriwal
Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal are the most educated, clean, erudite and passionate leaders Delhi could hope to have

Given the track record of public service of both the contestants, it could be easily said that irrespective of who wins or loses, Delhi will have an involved and proactive Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition. Even the Congress, as it gasps for survival in the capital, has projected a clean and efficient Ajay Maken as it’s a campaign face. With a lineup like this, one faith in the fairness of the democratic system goes up one notch.

It therefore came as a rude shock when Bedi took no time to reject Arvind Kejriwal’s progressive suggestion that there should be a debate between the contestants moderated by a neutral person and broadcast live by all. Even Makan, who has the unenviable job of convincing people to vote for the Congress agreed for the debate. For reasons, known best to her, Bedi hasn’t even considered the proposal doing great disservice to the cause of democratic transparency.

A Bedi-Kejriwal-Maken debate would have really shown the way for a more mature and informed campaign by all three parties. Such debates are mainstay in mature democracies, in the US you can’t dream for high office if you can’t explain your stand on crucial issues can’t expand on your vision for the future or can’t expose the weak arguments of your opponents.

One Delhi Debate between the Chief Ministerial candidates would have meant much more than the senseless blabber on campaign ads, massive hoardings and other electoral malpractices that parties (allegedly indulge in) just hours before voting. Also what better place than Delhi to begin with a Presidential style moderated debate and what better occasion than the assembly election to one of the most progressive states in India?

Bedi’s refusal for such a debate is also baffling because neither is she unfamiliar with issues that Delhi faces nor does she lack any communication skills. Post her retirement, Bedi has been on a mission mode, addressing conferences and seminars on almost a daily basis. Ironically, before she joined the BJP, when her world view on Modi and politics was more realistic, she herself pitched for such presidential style debates.

Either Bedi is playing it too safe and basking under the Modi glow or she’s already getting high on power. Her brash attitude in interviews of late would suggest the latter. But whatever the case may be, Delhizens have been denied a great opportunity to vet their candidates directly and Indian Democracy will now have to wait for years before another duo or trio emerges who’re all knowledgeable, articulate and passionate enough to engage in a high states public debate before the elections.

Akash Banerjee is a media professional and author of Tales from Shining and Sinking India

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