The unorchestrated and organic citizens’ protests across India has made Home Minister Amit Shah realise that he must dare his opponents to a debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He insists that the citizenship law is being misconstrued and leaders such as Rahul Gandhi, Asaduddin Owaisi, Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray, Mayawati, Kanhaiya Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Priyanka Gandhi are just spreading misinformation.
What if a debate on CAA were to take place? How would Amit Shah fare?
If Amit Shah were to debate with the “bearded man” – that’s how Owaisi described himself while challenging Amit Shah to a CAA debate – then he would lose for sure. Owaisi would bring many constitutional and anecdotal references and easily prove that the CAA is unconstitutional. Besides being a barrister, Owaisi has won the Sansad Ratna Award 2014 for his excellence as a Parliamentarian. He asked a whopping 1,080 questions and participated in 40 debates in the 15th Lok Sabha. In the 16th Lok Sabha, he asked 738 questions, against a national average of 293. Imagine the volley of questions and counter questions he would throw at Amit Shah.
But Shah would turn the debate into a mudslinging Hindu-Muslim match. It will, however, give Owaisi, a great opportunity to launch himself and his party AIMIM nationally.
Against Kanhaiya Kumar
In a Kanhaiya Kumar-Amit Shah debate, we should expect fireworks. It will be more watched than an India-Pakistan cricket match. Kanhaiya is a better and more effective orator than Narendra Modi. He did, after all, start the national unity cry of Azadi, which Hindu fundamentalists regard as an ‘anti-India’ call. Kanhaiya peppers his speeches with popular, youthful, tongue-in-cheek references and not just harp on sanskriti and sanskar, as BJP leaders do.
What would work against Kanhaiya, though, is that he’s a member of the Communist Party of India. The popular image of Communists in India today is that of people who want to divide India – the ‘tukde tukde gang’ – and those who are Afzal Guru-sympathisers. That’s the Amit Shah trap he can’t afford to walk into. After his Begusarai defeat, a debate with Amit Shah would give Kanhaiya Kumar an opportunity to shore up his political credentials.
Against the Gandhis
Then there are the Gandhis. I personally think Rahul Gandhi is not capable of taking on Amit Shah in a debate. Perhaps, a combination of Priyanka and Rahul versus Amit Shah could give the argument some meat. Rahul’s greatest disadvantage is weak Hindi and frequent faux pas. He has come a long way, but public speaking is just not his strength. And he doesn’t have the appetite for Narendra Modi-Amit Shah style low-brow attacks.
Priyanka is a better speaker, but she has only been seen speaking to some people on street corners of Uttar Pradesh or giving media bites. Amit Shah’s debate with Priyanka could go either way, but it would change the dynamics of the Congress party and force it to look beyond Rahul Gandhi.
In fact, Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh, with his understanding of economics and Hindu scriptures, would be better at this debate with Amit Shah.
Against Thackeray, Mamata and Mayawati
Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray is a man of a few words. And he also seems like a reluctant orator, unless he is speaking in Marathi to his core voters. Mamata Banerjee too seems most comfortable only in Bangla. Her Hindi is too accented for a watchable debate with Amit Shah. But any display of theatrics and fiery temper on the debate ahead of the West Bengal election would only make the BJP portray her as mercurial and unpredictable.
Although Mayawati stays away from public debates and conclaves, her press conferences and tweets show that she does not mince her words. She said recently, in unequivocal terms, that the most sorrow is felt by Dalits, tribal people, backward classes, Muslims and other religious minorities when the central government doesn’t function according to the values enshrined in the Constitution.
She has also called Modi a “fake OBC” in the past. Mayawati has no filter when it comes to public statements, and that is exactly what is required out of a politician in a debate with Amit Shah. It will also invigorate some life into the Bahujan Samaj Party that is undergoing an existential crisis at the moment.
Kejriwal and his constant jibes at the BJP for ruining India will get points in a debate with Amit Shah. His constant use of colloquial terms like ‘bedagark’ and ‘satyanaash’ presses all the wrong buttons of the BJP, which remains in denial about the economic disaster underway in India.
In fact, it was Kejriwal who kept admonishing India for making someone like Amit Shah the Home Minister in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election. His language skills plus quick thinking and insistence of the uselessness of a law like CAA would make the debate worthwhile. His vast knowledge of governance owing to his bureaucratic past as well as his work in Delhi when it comes to education, water, electricity and healthcare will make the debate more intelligent and less rhetorical.
Indians just hope that a debate happens on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Indian politics just doesn’t remain ‘bayanbaazi (wordplay)’ of politicians from their comfort zones.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.