Delhi’s top debaters make mark on the biggest stage
The event, which was organised in Delhi-NCR for the first time, saw eight finalists from various Delhi colleges pitted against each other and showcased the importance of debate in strengthening a democracy.Updated: Oct 21, 2020, 06:50 IST
Following months of intense verbal jousts between college-goers from across the National Capital Region (NCR), a History student from Hindu College and an Economics undergraduate from Daulat Ram College won the grand finale of the Federal Bank Speak for India — Delhi Edition debate competition held on Tuesday in association with Hindustan Times and Hindustan.
The event, which was organised in Delhi-NCR for the first time, saw eight finalists from various Delhi colleges pitted against each other and showcased the importance of debate in strengthening a democracy. The jury comprised senior journalist Barkha Dutt, founding member of Delhi University’s National Democratic Teachers’ Front Inder Mohan Kapahy, and Shri Ram College of Commerce professor Abhinav Prakash Singh. While former parliamentarian and national vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party Baijayant Jay Panda was the chief guest, renowned athlete and paralympian Deepa Malik and Aam Aadmi Party legislator and spokesperson Raghav Chadha were the guests of honour.
Shyam Srinivasan, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Federal Bank in a televised message, spoke of the event — the biggest debating event held in Delhi-NCR and six other Indian states — as a platform for bright young minds to meet and express their ideas. He added that it has been encouraging to witness the overwhelming reception the property received from about 62000 young aspirants in Delhi-NCR this year and the gripping performance of the eight finalists who spoke passionately for what they believed to be right.
Civil Services-aspirant Vinayak Gupta, 21, and a graduate of History (Honours) in Hindu College won the debate, while Priyanshi Sharma, an Economics (Honours) graduate of Daulat Ram College came second. Gupta, who hails from small town Nautanwa, near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh was awarded a cash prize of Rs1.5 lakh, a scholarship of Rs 50,000 and a college reward worth Rs 25,000, while Sharma, currently employed with Deloitte India as an executive won Rs 1 lakh and Rs 20,000 as college reward.
The two faced off against each other on whether the lockdown was the right step in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
The finalists offered a study on the diversity of the country: B Bharath, of Indira Gandhi National Open University, is the son of a farmer from Andhra Pradesh, and is studying for his Civil Services examination; Sushovan Chakraborty of Hindu College hails from Guwahati, Ranu Sancheti of Gurugram is a student of the FORE School of Management in Delhi, while Manawwar Hussain developed an interest in public speaking during his formative years spent at a Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya school in Bihar.
Over 62,000 participants from across Delhi and the NCR registered online for the debate, and over 1,000 students took part in the preliminary auditions. The initial rounds, which took place in January and February, were conducted in various Delhi University (DU) colleges, including Hindu College, Kirori Mal College, Aurobindo College, and Daulat Ram College
Though the finale was slated for March, the event was postponed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the disease.
“I believe in the power of words and also in action. We don’t have an Indian Administrative Services officer in the family and that’s why I want to be one. A civil servant has great power and with that you can help other people,” said Gupta.
The debate format was rigorous and conducted over three rounds. In the first, all eight participants were asked to debate on the topic: Is the start-up culture a fad or a trendsetter. Each participant was asked to blindly pick a side and were given a minute to gather their thoughts. They were then given two minutes to speak extempore. After their speech, each pair of participants was given three minutes to question each other, and an additional minute to present their closing argument. After the first round, two pairs — four participants — were chosen to go into the next round.
“With the government encouraging incubation of ideas for start-ups, the middle class is warming up to it and this is the time for start-ups,” said Gupta.
Hussain of Kirori Mal College, who won the popular Choice award said “simply launching a website doesn’t make a start-up...what is absent in the country is the infrastructure to support it”.
The same process was followed in the second round — the topic of debate was whether corporate jobs were the new form of slavery — but this time around, the three judges were also allowed to ask questions from each participant.
“We have signed up for corporate slavery and we are compliant of their demands due to paychecks, but in reality this is a culture that puts less value on the human being and more on his or her productivity,” Sancheti said.
Sharma however took exception to the term “corporate slavery”, as it was reminiscent of the master-slave relationship of feudal times. “We now have more choice. Earlier there used to be a strong element of force. Now you can change a job if it doesn’t work for you,” she said.
In the final round, apart from the existing format, both participants were also expected to present a minute-long monologue on the opposing viewpoint, which was referred to as the turncoat round.
Some of the questions that the duo grappled with included: Was the lockdown an opportunity for the Indian economy? Did it do equally right for the poor, the middle class and the rich? Or was the impact on the economy negative? Could we have avoided the migrant crisis?
While Sharma called it an “ill-timed and ill-planned step” done without adequate consultation with bureaucrats and the labour ministry, her turncoat viewpoint was that the government spread awareness through multiple campaigns and implemented the lessons it learnt from other countries. Gupta said that we must not get caught up in definitions of “good or bad lockdowns” . “More people died of hunger they they did of Covid,” he added.
Lauding the contestants for upholding the most important principle of a debate, Panda said: “Getting to know what the other side is thinking is a quality that is important in politics, in corporate life and life in general.”
Chaddha used the platform to exhort young of India to “join national politics. “The average of India is 29. I am 31. You and I have more reason to worry about high taxes, increasing poverty...we’ll be living longer than most politicians today,” he said.