Pune school students, who proved to be a formidable force in the first-ever indigenous edition of the popular British school debate series 'Debating Matters', will now take on the competition's Britain finalists in London in July.
The team from Pune's SM Choksey High School and Junior College led by A Shivanand and Vignesh Gundesha swept the final round of 'Debating Matters - India' in New Delhi on Saturday.
The duo beat Don Bosco School from Liluah in West Bengal to clinch the Indian finals.
The topic on the high table was "India's future lies more with Asia than the United States" and the winning team opposed the motion.
Victory for the team from SM Choksey High School and Junior college was special because unlike the other semi-finalists - West Bengal-based Don Bosco School, Smt Solochanadevi Singhania School, Lady Andal Venkattaasubbarao School, St Xavier's Collegiate School, St Mark's Senior Secondary School and Delhi Public School, the contestants were not sponsored by their school.
"They came in New Delhi on their own steam," director of the Institute of Ideas Chaire Fox told the audience while handing over the trophy to the winners. The Institute of Ideas co-hosted the event along with the British Council and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
The finalists made a strong pitch for and against the motion with the winners highlighting the importance of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the role of US as a funding agency and how healthy ties with the US can help India reap the benefits of the country's technological progress.
The Pune team contended that according to Darwin's survival of the fittest theory - "at the moment, US is the fittest."
The runners-up from Don Bosco put forth a strong argument for a pan-Asian caucus - with India at the centre - saying India and then SAARC nations shared a strong cultural affinity that went back thousand of years. They said China and India were no longer billed as competitors as they were gradually closing ranks and collaborating despite contentious issues.
However, Bosco boys from Bengal were not in favour of any third party (US) mediation in Kashmir.
The judges for the final round included Les Dangerfield, deputy director of the British Council, India, Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer of the Future Brands Ltd and Amir Ullah Khan, director, India Development Foundation.
Earlier in the day, the semi-finalists sparred over two crucial issues - whether "Clinical trials in India exploit the poor and the vulnerable" and "In Today's India, our unity is being undermined by our diversity."
The three-day debate opened on Jan 15 with a series of preparatory seminars like "Free speech is not an Absolute Right" and "India should resist the commercial planting of GM food crops".
"Indian students have never been exposed to this format of debating before. We are now working for the Year 2 because all the schools are keen to take part in it. Indian students have a fair understanding of issues and are armed with facts, statistics and argument.
"But, initially they tried to take on each other. Over a week we managed to drill it into them that 'Debating Matters' was a deeper engagement with complex matters and went beyond the conventional debates," science and society director of the Institute of Ideas and National Coordinator of Debating Matters Tony Guilland told IANS.
According to Sujata Sen, director of BCL (East India), 250 schools had applied for the elimination rounds of which 48 schools were shortlisted and eight reached the semi-finals. "It's a pilot project, we have bigger plans next year," Sen said.
Debating Matters, which was initiated in Britain five years ago as a both online and offline platform, seeks to engage students in informal debates to understand current socio-political and economic issues instead of clever word play. It invites high-calibre to professionals from all walks to life to judge the competition.