The Outside Insider

Tim Sebastian's new show on Bloomberg UTV, The Outsider, is situated in a space largely unknown to us. It's debate TV, a pleasant change from the Indian flavour of talk TV. We interpret the verb 'to talk' a little too liberally, giving participants and anchors the licence to use every means short of lethal force to push their agendas. Our shows have no clearly defined motion, only leading questions, allegations and vague arguments to morality that the anchor flings at the guests, usually in a high-pitched, hectoring tone of voice. Led on by this bad behaviour, the guests respond in like measure and the talk show degenerates into a shoutcast.

On the contrary, Sebastian's show presents a formal motion, takes an audience poll on it, puts the motion to the test and takes another poll again at the end of the show, to gauge the extent to which the debate has swayed the house. This evening, the show's question is: 'Is India's justice system failing?' Earlier, the show has asked if India is mean and ungiving, if it is a fit place for women, if it is ripe for revolution and if it is possible to run an honest business here. In the role of the Outsider, Sebastian revives questions that we Indians have left for dead. Sometimes, the results are surprising, exposing our own clichés about ourselves.

The strength of the show is that people who actually have something to say are given the chance to be heard, and even to be indiscreet. On the corruption debate, Manjeet Kripalani, executive director of Gateway House, had no reservations about saying that corruption is led by the corporate elite, who reach out to the new business maharajahs – politicians who have cornered the right to distribute resources and inputs. But she balanced it out by admitting that the phenomenon was a reaction to the trammelling of business by over-regulation and requirements to over-report across jurisdictions. Air Deccan founder Captain Gopinath admitted to having cut corners once in an otherwise straight career. The MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar admitted that his telecom ventures had gone bankrupt twice because all that the industry did was to lobby for free spectrum. "I wasn't good at it and decided not to do it," he said. Noted criminal lawyer Satish Maneshinde (Shahid Balwa's counsel, incidentally) wryly opined that this was a good decision, or he would have run into Chandrashekhar in the 2G court.

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