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  Books   16 Sep 2023  An insider critiques the Indian parliament

An insider critiques the Indian parliament

Published : Sep 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Sep 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST

The subjects under discussion here can make for a useful handbook

Who Cares About Parliament by Derek O’Brien. (Image: AA)
 Who Cares About Parliament by Derek O’Brien. (Image: AA)

A collection of 30 short articles, mostly no more than two to three pages long, this slender volume which is an informed critique of the ways of Parliament in the present day, and discusses the fate of the supposedly high-minded policies of the present government, is likely to have a longish shelf-life.

This is for the good reason that the writing is fluent; the style is chatty and fun. Even young persons who have no abiding interest in political affairs may find themselves pulled in if they pick up the book. The subjects under discussion here can make for a useful handbook for others too. Journalists assigned to cover Parliament, as well as MPs across the aisle who have lived through the Modi era, may also find this slim volume useful.

The author is a well-known Trinamul Congress politician whose second term in the Rajya Sabha has just ended. As such, he knows his onions. He is sufficiently partisan of course, but the book is saved from being consigned to the ranks of propaganda. This is on account of the fact that there is documentation where needed even while the author puts across his views as a serious MP.

The present reviewer, who has been acquainted with the charms of the Central Hall of Parliament as a journalist for as long as most current MPs, and has traded in political fact and fiction with senior politicians of three generations, can say this about the collection of essays under review: it makes for useful reading though the sequence of articles could have been flipped with the foregrounding of the last third of the book.

The reason is these are like the bread which is fresh from the oven. They touch upon some of the most important concerns of the people during Modi Raj which, alas, have not been addressed while the government has pretended they have.

The Central Hall is an institution within an institution. Here is where senior and junior politicians of different hues meet in an informal spirit over coffee and light repast, and bitter opponents may trade easy banter. This is where top-level politicians also interface with journalists of sufficient seniority who, as a matter of democratic tradition, are given access to the movers and shakers so that they may inform the people in turn.

All this has changed in the Modi era. Journalists have been squeezed and marginalised so that what happens on the inside track may not reach the newspaper reader and television viewer. This is the era of Big Brother and megaphone propaganda.   

O’Brien opens the book with the Central Hall. This is the subject he dwells on in the prologue. He tells us — wistfully — that the recently inaugurated new Parliament building does not have a Central Hall. The seriousness of the meaning of this deserved thoughtful reflection.

Instead, the author has preferred highlighting anecdotes relating to two prominent politicians — one from the BJP and the other from the Congress. This of course sits well with the fashion of the age, which is to personalise events and institutions for the sake of what’s called reader connect, and is favoured by publishers. Another thing: The title seems a bit flat. It doesn’t quite do justice to the book. On the whole, though, what we get in hand is a job well done by a young political leader who has made a mark early on account of his presence as a MP.

Who Cares About Parliament
Derek O’Brien
pp. 192; Rs. 395/-

Tags: indian parliament, politics, modi era, political critique, trinamul congress, democracy