"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it". The lay of the land was similar at the iLEAD campus on Wednesday, 10th of August, when the prestigious institution co-organized and hosted the reputed ‘Jefferson Debates 2016’, in association with the US Consul (American Center).
The registration began post noon. Participants from 11 colleges, including RCCIIT, United World School of Business, Jadavpur University (Economics department), Calcutta University (Department of Law), Bhawanipore Education Society College, Loreto College, St. Joseph’s College and iLEAD had prepared themselves to take up the arms in the battle of the words.
The program began with the welcome address by iLEAD Chairman, Mr. Pradip Chopra, followed by felicitation of the eminent judges, Mr. Pradeep Guptoo - Bengal Initiative, Mr. Sabir Siddhartha Ghaffar- President, Youth Initiative India and Ms. Tinku Roy - Political Specialist, U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata. The moderator for the event was Mr. Greg Pardo, Assistant Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata, who was also felicitated. This was Mr. Pardo’s second stint as a moderator for the much acclaimed debate held at iLEAD campus.
The 5th edition of Jefferson Debate kickstarted with this year’s motion- “Presidential systems tend to focus electoral campaigns on personalities, rather than political platforms”.
Aishwarya from RCCIIT, Kolkata, stated personalities are in fact the centre of focus during a campaign, supporting her claim by quoting the Republican candidate Donald Trump’s extreme views on Muslims and Mexicans, which were a sharp contrast to his party and nations beliefs.
Srijita from Jadavpur University said, ‘Politics has always been issue-based and not personality-based’; adding that Trump’s views were not simply racist or bigoted, but in fact aligned with that of his party’s, because they wanted to focus more on Americans and less on immigrants.
Tarunima from Loreto College began her speech by describing the concept of a political system, saying that it does not exist in a vacuum, and emanates from the society itself, while a political platform essentially implies a document that is the party’s ideology.
‘In the current US elections, when you see Donald Trump’s own party members refusing to vote for him, it is a clear violation of the political platform and it puts the political platform in the backseat and the politician in front’, she said.
She added, ‘Even with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who had almost similar opinions because of their political platform, there was a keen contest because of their personal interpretation of this issue.’
Opposing her was Anisha from iLEAD who said, ‘The presidential system cannot survive without a set of mottos, agenda, motives; which has been followed by parties since time immemorial. Presidents come and go, but these policies stay.’ According to her, it is the party which matters and not the candidate. However, ‘there must be perfect synchronization between the two for the progress of a country’, said Anisha.
Nikita, the second speaker from Loreto College, adopted a rather tongue-in-cheek attitude. She said that ‘there is an increasing trend of memes and trolls and cartoons based on the politicians- even greater focus on their private lives than focus on the party’s stand’; which blur the lines between celebrities and politicians.
While a participant from Meghnad Saha Institute of Technology said that ‘both personality and the political platform were equally important’; his opponent from United World School of Business argued that ‘personality mattered the most’.
Using Bush and Clinton as appropriate examples, Jai Gadhia of iLEAD highlighted the need of a charismatic personality in presidential campaigns.
On the other hand, Sudeshna Roy of Calcutta University (Department of Law) went all the way to Nigeria to bring to the limelight how Goodluck Jonathan went against his own party's executive board to criticize his opponent Mohammad Guhari in 2015 elections.
Rushabh Shah from BESC, restricted his argument to the very person's case after whom the debate was christened, Thomas Jefferson and showed how Obama won the majority the second time he stood for elections with the help of the Electoral College and not the US citizenry.
The debate had an array of vivid arguments, showcasing how voters can get lured by the ethnicity or race of the personality, like Obama - the first black president, to the fact that politics has always been ideology-based and that presidential system can't survive without agendas and motions, which are decided by political platforms.
After an hour of fervent discussion, the rebuttal round saw the first two teams getting a chance to knock the opposing side of the motion out. While the judges got busy calculating the scores, Moderator Mr. Pardo explained the audiences how the presidential elections aimed to achieve a balance between the personality and his/her platform. Being from Texas, he showcased how people had given divided attention to both the factors over various elections. In reality, it was essentially a mix of both the personality and the political platform and if in some cases, people were voting for a leader based on his/her personality and his/her personal views, others were breaking away from tradition and choosing to go with the partys policies.
Even the judges gave students an insight into the debate's analysis, with Mr. Guptoo pointing the participants to contextualize the quotes being used by them to define the motion and telling them that presidential system was not designed for elections but for rule.
After the fierce competition, iLEAD was adjudged the 2nd runners up, while Department of Law (Calcutta University) bagged the 1st runners up title. Loreto College took away the top prize with Tarunima Parwar from the same college winning the ‘Best Speaker’ award.
St. Joseph's College
Netaji Subhash Engineering College
Army Institute Of Management
Meghnad Saha Institute of Technology
Dept of Law, CU
United Business School