Contemporary political issues and state of the nation: at the launch of Derek O'Brien's new book

Derek O’Brien who was in conversation with Barkha Dutt on his new book, Inside Parliament, spoke about contemporary political issues

December 12, 2017 04:59 pm | Updated 10:09 pm IST

Writer and Rajya Sabha Member Derek O' Brien during the launch of his book 'Inside Parliment' at Catholic Club in Bengaluru on December 02, 2017.

Writer and Rajya Sabha Member Derek O' Brien during the launch of his book 'Inside Parliment' at Catholic Club in Bengaluru on December 02, 2017.

In his latest book, a collection of political essays, Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row (HarperCollins) Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien reflects on the state of the nation, on the note ban, the Constitution, the hasty GST roll out (a move the Trinamool Congress has opposed), and speculates on the 2019 General elections, among other issues, while also reminiscing over his journey as an MP.

The launch, held recently at Catholic Club, as part of the iBrowse book event, in which Derek was in conversation with Barkha Dutt, was filled with light-hearted banter despite serious political discussions.

“I chose only two cities to launch my book,” said Derek, “Chennai and Bengaluru. After Kolkata, I have more friends in Bengaluru!”

“What politicians don’t tell you is more interesting,” said Barkha in humour. To which Derek replied: “I haven’t disclosed any personal or public conversations I have had with Mamata Banerjee.” The fights we see in Parliament, said Barkha, are squabbles meant for TV.

“Though they aren’t inauthentic, but they crumble over tea and toast later,” observed Barkha. Derek said: “We are political rivals, not enemies. There are basic courtesies people from across parties extend to each other. They condoled me when my father (Neil O’Brien) passed away.”

Barkha asked the audience if politicians were perceived as noble. Hardly anyone agreed. “More people from civil society need to take an interest in politics,” Derek responded.

“Are current politics representing a backlash against an old elite? People are willing to give new people a chance,” Barkha said.

Borrowing a term from Mamata Banerjee, LIP (Less Important Person) versus VIP (Very Important Person), Derek said: “When young MPs get off an aeroplane, they have someone carrying their pouch! It has become a culture! I have never broken a line. And Mamata Banerjee always stands in the queue at the airport.”

To Barkha’s question of: “You write of a news anchor who is a gau rakshak in a suit, who is it?” Derek said: “You have to use your imagination.” and observed further: “Media channels launch themselves on a brand positioning, and they filter news through this.” Playing devil’s advocate, Barkha said: “What if politicians don’t have the pulse of the people?” “We do have the pulse of the people!” Derek asserted: “We won a 3/4 majority!”

Barkha observed that absolutism in free speech is impossible for every political party. “That is because every five years politicians go back to the electorate, They are trying to reflect a larger understanding of the electoral pulse,” quipped Derek.

Growing up in Calcutta in a melange of culture and identities informed Derek’s outlook.

He dreams of an India where such co-existence will be the norm. “It goes beyond religion. Industrialists sent their sons to St. Xavier’s. When I went home my friend’s fathers would cycle to work. The city was a multi-layered, different economic world.”

Derek observed that the BJP has to be fought with a thorough understanding of the regional electorate.

“The Congress win in Punjab was primarily because of a strong regional leader, Amarinder Singh,” said Barkha.

“You need to fight the BJP in their local idiom. Siddaramaiah is the face of Congress in Karnataka,” Derek contended.

To an audience question on the impact the upcoming Gujarat elections will have, Derek replied in characteristic humour: “The Ranji trophies don’t count. The test match coming up in 2019 does.”

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