Way back in the mid-90s two young men, both in their mid-20s, were invited for a television debate. They were both young graduates, and had been very active in student politics as undergraduates. One was a self-proclaimed Leftist. The other was a self-proclaimed Nationalist [please note that their ideological positions are not what this is about].
They were asked to speak on the ‘National Question’. Each had his say. Each defended his position. Lots of issues were touched on. After the show was done, the producer of the program arranged transport for the two to go home. They were sent off in a van.
They were political opponents but since they had both been involved in student politics they were also friends, on occasion even sharing the same stage on issues they agreed on. As the van took off the Leftist asked a question.
‘What on earth were you doing during the debate? You didn’t respond to a single question I raised. You weren’t debating me. You were not even sticking to the topic!’
The Nationalist smiled. He said, ‘Why on earth should I debate you? Who are you, anyway? I got an opportunity to address the nation and I did just that!’
Now someone might say that he was being unfair or that he was unethical, but the fact remains that when you are young, when you consider yourself a rebel, when you have things to say, you have to make the most of the opportunities that come your way.
He might have gained some ground responding to the Leftist. On the other hand, in such debates, no one really wins.
The supporters of each position are not ready to be swayed by another. Each leaves believing he has won the day. Their supporters believe likewise. At least these two, at that time, talked sense and delved deep into relevant issues. They still do, for the record. Still, these debates don’t result in one party winning and the other conceding defeat and adopting the position of the victor. In this sense the Nationalist was right.
He had a different objective. He turned a debating opportunity into one which allowed him to lay out his political vision before a wider audience. So that’s exactly what he did. He addressed the entire nation.
So there are fights and there are fights. Some are worth the effort and some are just a waste of precious resources and rare opportunities. A rebel is now endowed with unlimited resources. A rebel gets half-chances at best. A rebel must know how to squeeze such opportunities in ways that extract the most amount of juice for his/her political project.
P.S. The Nationalist, today, is a key figure in the country’s political firmament, an individual who has proved he can twist the political equation and thereby change the direction of the country. The Leftist, still highly respected, is a senior professor in a university. His impact, for now, has been marginal.