Sunday, March 23, 2014

An Essay On a College Debate

We are living in an age of parliamentary democracy. We have train ourselves to be effective speakers and ready debaters. A good debater must be able to speak extempore, to answer the points raised by previous speakers, to state clearly with reason his own points of view, and to be able to combine arguments that convince and win listeners over to his side. He must not only speak fluently, logically, and with conviction, but he must excel in the cut and thrust of debate; in smart repartee and good-humored retort. To acquire mastery over these, a good deal of training and practice is necessary. Hence in these days, debates often conducted on parliamentary lines – have become a feature of college life.

Recently in our college there was very interesting and exciting debate. Notice was given of the following resolution by the secretary of the college union to be moved and debated on a particular day: “that in the opinion of his house the idea of a national language for India is unnecessary and provocative, and should be dropped.”

As the resolution mooted a subject on which fillings were running high and was couched in rather provocative language, the interest was great indeed, and we back-benchers gathered together in large numbers in expectation of a highly exciting debate.

On the due date, classes were suspended some time before the debate was to take place, and students filed into the college hall and took their seats. It was apparent that a great deal of lobbying had already taken place, for the supporters and the opponents of the resolution occupied opposite sectors of the hall. The neutrals not that there were many of them – took their seats as they were attracted convenience or friendship.

The mover was allowed fifteen minutes in which to speak in support of his resolution. He has come prepared, and he spoke concisely and pointedly. He pointed out that India was a ‘Multilanguage state’ that many of our languages were highly developed, and their users were proud and sensitive to any things threatening their importance. He cited the example of Canada, Switzerland, and Russia to show that a national language was not necessary for national unity. He made a difference between state language and national language; the latter will give predominance to the people whose language is selected. This is harmful to national unity, and would have disruptive effect. His was a balanced speech. But not so the speech of the secondary, it was fiery oration, full of personal attacks, scathing criticism and withering scorn. And with that, the atmosphere suddenly becomes electric. Words were bandied about; noisy interruptions provoked stinging retorts; cries of “withdraw; withdraw” were met with louder cries of “shame, shame”. Some of the speeches showed high oratorical gifts; some excelled in invective; others in argument. Some spoke with deliberation, others with energy.

Particular praise must be reserved for the leader of the opposition. He was calm, logical and persuasive. He pointed out that except Russia; the other countries cited had only two or three languages. The Russian example was irrelevant because the basis of their state was different. The function of a national language was two-fold; inter-communication between the peoples and communication with the rest or worded speech. The president, I must say, did his job admirably. He pulled up speakers who were too personal or too irrelevant; he kept down the rising tempers with a timely jest; in relaxing the prescribed time-limit for speakers, he wisely followed the sense of the house.

After a full two-hour debate, the mover was called upon to reply to the criticisms made from the manner in which he disposed of the arguments that had been raised against him, it was clear that he was a trained speaker. He made a most favorable impression, even on his opponents, and won many doubtful votes by promptly accepting a verbal alteration suggested by one member in an amendment which substituted the words “unnecessary” and “provocative” by the less provocative words “unwise” and “likely to rouse passions”. I believe that the acceptance of these slight changes was responsible for the overwhelming majority by which the resolution was declared carried. So clear indeed was the verdict that a counting of votes was not considered necessary.

I am not a good or even tolerable speaker myself. Perhaps that explains the admiration I left for the various qualities exhibited by many of my friends. My honest opinion is that many of the speakers showed excellent promise, and, given the opportunity, at last some of them will impress larger audiences in the years to come.