Smita Gupta reviews Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row by Derek O’Brien

Derek O’Brien joined politics only in 2004, but as the title of his most recent book suggests, he sits in the front row of the Rajya Sabha, to which he was elected in 2011. No mean achievement, given he joined politics after stints as a sports journalist, advertising professional and quizmaster. Today, as leader of his party, the Trinamool Congress, in the Rajya Sabha, he is a familiar figure in Parliament, a sartorial contrast to his father, educationist-publisher Neil O’Brien, who always wore a formal suit to Parliament during his tenure as a nominated member of the Lok Sabha, representing the Anglo-Indian community.

Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row is a collection of essays O’Brien had written for a varied number of news outlets.

Lucidly written, the book provides a bird’s eye view of some key political issues the country has grappled with in the last three and a half years — from the devastating impact of demonetisation to the way a complicated Goods and Services Tax has caused disruption, to unspent Nirbhaya funds, Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s death, a critique of the use of pellet guns in Kashmir and the OROP agitation. There are some insights into the negotiations that precede lawmaking, the primary task of a Member of Parliament and chapters on the beef ban, and the increasing use of unparliamentary language by politicians.

His harshest words are for the CPI(M), the party the Trinamool ousted from power in 2011 in West Bengal. Occasionally, he takes gentle potshots at other parties — especially the Congress — and politicians. These include the Union Finance Minister, with a chapter titled ‘Football Jersey No 110 for Arun Jaitley, please’: “With Mr Jaitley, it would be number 110, as a tribute to Article 110, under which a bill can be declared a money bill and moved out of the jurisdictional purview of the Rajya Sabha. Article 110 is liberally used these days… from the Adhaar Bill to the GST legislation,” he writes.

O’Brien reserves his reverence only for his leader, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, devoting an entire chapter to the success of Ms. Banerjee’s Kanyashree programme that won the UN Public Service Award for 2017 and the lacklustre progress of Narendra Modi’s much publicised Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.

If a clear point of view runs through the book, it emerges explicitly in the last two chapters, ‘The BJP is beatable in 2019’ and ‘Growing strong together’, in which he describes opposition unity moves and lists the issues on which the BJP can be taken on. The timing of his book could not have been better, with general elections just a year and a half way.

Inside Parliament: Views from the Front Row; Derek O’Brien, HarperCollins, ₹499.