At last a debate. Arun Jaitley for BJP taking on Kapil Sibal from Congress. Four major issues debated were Governance, Stability, Security and Economy. Hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai of the CNN-IBN, it was mostly a fair debate.
This is how I saw the debate go, followed by my comments on the substance of the debate:
1) Governance : Sibal 1-0 Jaitley:
2) Security : Sibal 0-1 Jaitley
3) Stability : Sibal 0-1 Jaitley
4) Economy: Sibal 0-1 Jaitley
Sibal scores on the Governance front with the record of 8.5% growth rate supporting his claims. Unfortunately, I would disagree with any government that claims to be responsible for economic growth. Government will only hinder growth by placing artificial barriers like Trade duties, Taxes etc. When they do cut the taxes, they aren't making a "great economic decision" per se, but handing people back what was rightfully theirs. Just as the NDA was taking undue credit for the growth in economy in 2004, UPA is now taking undue credit for the economic growth in '04-'08. The best a government can do (especially in a poor country like ours) is to get out of the way and empower the poor. The poor don't need dole-outs as much as opportunities.
I do applaud the UPA for passing the RTI act, but the rest of claims made on governance are good old fashioned bull. Regarding the infrastructure etc, Sibal may claim that they have begun a plethora of programs, but most of these programs have been allocated funds but grossly abused and mismanaged the typical malaise of a corrupt bureacratic machinery backed by an immoral power structure.
On the issue of security, Sibal might as well have given up the round even before it began: The pathetic and unprecedented record on terror - not only of the Pakistani/Bangladeshi origin, but also of the Maoist origins, speaks for itself. Yet, he did put up a good fight bringing up the issue of Parliament attacks ( a miserable intelligence failure doubtless - But when our RAW cannot tail a civil journalist without being captured, it is a tall order expecting it to gather any substantial information). The counter by Jaitley about the response is well taken. Police reforms are long overdue yet none of the parties have mentioned anything concrete and our response after Mumbai attacks goes to show how badly equipped our police forces really are to handle security threats. Although audience was responsive to Sibal's statements like "We donot send out invitations to terrorists", I wasn't impressed. They were just straw men raised to skirt the issue.
On Economy, a thumbs up to Jaitley on two counts : BJP's positioning itself as a right of center party with greater emphasis on empowerment of people is the right way forward, Hence Tax and interest rate cuts. And secondly, because Sibal's statistics were pulled out of the air. As a commentator put it - "WTF? Is Kapil Sibal crazy? 50% retrenchment means 70 million lost jobs--considering size of American workforce. The actual unemployment rate is close to 8%."
Sibal may tout NREGA as UPA's poster boy, but NREGA was derided and strongly criticised by many organisations including the IMF. Throw in the Rs.60,000 crore loan waiver, and you have a perfect recipe of injecting paper money without any increase in production - in other words inflation. The danger of running a fiscal deficit of over 10% seems to be lost on Sibal and INC/UPA.
I disagree with both Jaitley and Sibbal on the role of Government in an economy, but that is only to be expected from a country where the constitution requires all parties to pray at the altar of socialism. Sibal also seems to be unaware of the Laffer curve effect, which tends to make up for the loss in tax revenue due to tax cuts by increased economic activity.
Stability would have been a tie(with both UPA and NDA losing allies), but for the recent RJD/SP split from UPA which presented Jaitley with a lot of ammunition. Sibal couldn't counter the arguments of the fighting between the Congress and its allies - NCP, RJD, SP being the primary culprits.
On the issue of Leadership, I have to reluctantly agree with BJP's anointing of Dr.Manmohan Singh as the weakest Prime Minister. I might have retained a neutral view in the elections if Pranab Mukherjee was the Prime Ministerial candidate. However, it is obvious to one and all that Sonia Gandhi pulled the strings from Janpath 10, against Pranab Mukherjee so that the PMO is not occupied by a strong leader who might jeopardise the chances of Rahul Gandhi leading the charge next time around. Although the argument that "educated men are needed" is often made, the education counts for nothing if this education doesn't make a contribution towards shaping the policy. Here Arun Shourie talks about incidents with Dr.Manmohan Singh in foreign policy. (Please watch the video, confirm the claims made and then make a judgment on his competence)
PS: Overall a nice debate and although my deep mistrust towards all politicians and Governments continues, I'd much rather not see the same bunch of thugs occupying power for consecutive terms - instincts of damage control.