May 02, 2015

Coalition of regional parties is what India needs

Watching Arvind Kejriwal’s speech at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds shortly after he was sworn in as chief minister, I was glad he tempered the overenthusiasm and too-keen ambition of some of his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) colleagues. Running a government in Delhi was his priority, he said. He cautioned against any “arrogant” attempt to expand the party’s footprint and contest elections in several other states.

The following weeks have seen the debate and discussion in the party go in quite unexpected directions. Kejriwal and his rivals in AAP have fought a very public battle. While this is entirely their business and I have no desire to intervene, in many ways it has reflected the evolution and the waking up of a clubby social movement into the hard reality of politics and managing public expectations.

Winning an election is an exhilarating moment. It can also be very scary. The weight of the mandate can make the winner apprehensive. After winning 67 seats in a 70-member assembly, Kejriwal realised the time for loud thinking and television debates was over. The voter had given him a huge mandate, but expected results. The voter wanted him to govern Delhi, and govern it well. That was the first and last message of that mandate. I think Kejriwal realised this before some others in his party did, and some of the problem flows from there.

If one considers the long-term trends in Indian politics, May 2014 was an aberration caused by the Modi team’s ultra-expensive, ultra-macho publicity campaign and by public anger with the UPA government. The Delhi victory by AAP has brought back focus on regional parties. AAP is a strong regional party in Delhi. Regional forces that are hostile to the Congress and the BJP are beginning to regroup in Bihar as well. Elections are due there in a few months.

Taking a regional party national and building an all-India constituency is not just difficult, it is near impossible. Modi’s achievement in May 2014 was a freak, and normality is being restored. AAP is not going to find it easy to expand its base. Politics in different states and regions varies. Political and social conditions, language and culture, modes of mobilisation, all vary. When AAP contested four Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in 2014, it won a grand total of 12,000 votes.

It is the same with other parties. Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are powerful in Bihar but have failed to make an impact in other states, from Bengal to Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat. Trinamool has been in existence since 1998. Despite attempting to tap into the Bengali-speaking population in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and other neighbouring states, we have not succeeded. We had an MLA in Arunachal Pradesh but he joined us from another party. It was only in Manipur that we managed to grow organically and are today the leading opposition party in the state assembly.

Having thrown in those caveats, I hope AAP succeeds in government. I so want it to. This will give the people of Delhi a chance to compare the BJP’s empty promises with the delivery of a grassroots party, embedded in the gullies and mohallasof the city.

In time, regional parties, representing the aspirations, interests and genuine popular sentiment of their states, and free of the arrogance of the Congress and the BJP – and the smugness of the drawing-room ideologues of the Communists – will need to band together and give India a genuine alternative to the current ruling order. That coalition, so representative of the coalitional nature of Indian society itself, will truly be what India needs.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament from Bengal
Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha) & Chief National Spokesperson

April 07, 2015

Trinamool doesn't want government meddling in land deals between industry and farmer

There's a delightful phrase of Persian origin called 'noora kushti'. It denotes a fixed fight ­ two people pretending to wrestle and fool spectators. The so-called tussle between the BJP-led government and Congress over the bill seeking to amend the land acquisition law is a first-rate example of noora kushti. Neither party is serious. Both are taking pro forma positions.

That is why Trinamool Congress opposed Congress' land acquisition law of 2013 and will oppose BJP's amendment bill this year. We are not doing this because we are determinedly oppositional. In fact our criticism of both the existing law and the new bill is consistent with our approach since at least 2006. TMC has lived up to its name: Truly Most Consistent.

What happened in 2006? The CPI(M) government then ruling West Bengal sought to forcibly acquire fertile, multicrop land from farmers in Singur for a car plant. Unwilling farmers were beaten up by CPI(M) cadre, backed by police muscle. In a shocking incident, a protesting farmer's daughter was raped and killed.

That episode shook Bengal's conscience. Mamata Banerjee, the leader of Trinamool, went on a marathon 26-day fast that attracted national attention. It embarrassed the CPI(M) government as well as UPA-1 in Delhi.

Matters were compounded in March 2007 when the CPI(M) government responded to similar farmer protests in Nandigram ­ location of another `land acquisition' scam ­by firing on innocent citizens. Eventually, the oppressive state machinery had to surrender to the moral authority of farmers and the just cause espoused by Mamata.

It was a historic moment. The issue of forcible land acquisition and need for a modern and fair law and mechanism to transfer agricultural land for industrial use had come to the fore. This was Mamata's contribution.

What was the prevailing situation? Land acquisition was governed by a colonial-era law dating back to 1894. This law had been drafted by the British to forcibly acquire land for `public purposes' ­ railway tracks, army cantonments, greenfield cities such as New Delhi. Free India's governments had retained this law, but used it even more dishonestly.

State governments were routinely acquiring land for a `public purpose' and then selling that land, at a handsome profit, to private companies. In some cases the land was handed over virtually free. The businessman and the government (or an individual set of politicians and crony capitalists) made windfall gains. The farmer got only a pittance. He lost his one asset ­ his precious, ancestral land ­ and was left to fend for himself and his family .

The logic applied was that of eminent domain, that the state had the right to acquire any property for a larger public or national purpose. One can understand the principle of eminent domain being applied to build a public hospital or a highway, but how does it become applicable in case of shopping malls, automobile plants, BPOs and other facilities owned and run by private enterprise?

Industry requires many 'factors of production', to borrow an expression from my Marxist friends. It needs land, water, raw material, labour, transport and logistics. In most of these government doesn't interfere. It does not seek to forcibly or cheaply acquire raw material or feedstock for an aluminium plant or a petrochemicals unit. It leaves this to the market, and to negotiation between buyer and seller, irrespective of the price.

Why can't this be done in the case of land as well? That is the simple question Trinamool asked in 2006, repeated in 2013 and is iterating in 2015. Congress failed to answer it and BJP ignores it too.

It is not a matter of x per cent or y per cent of a farming community agreeing to sell individual parcels of land. Let the industrialist negotiate and get the concurrence of 100% of farming families the land of whom he believes he needs. Let this be a clear negotiation between buyer and empowered farmer.Why should the state intervene?

Do farmers have the capacity to negotiate with industry? Perhaps all don't; that is true. Some guidance, whether from government or civil society, could be provided, but let the farmer decide for himself. And if the 100th farmer gets more for his land than the 17th ­simply because he holds out longer ­ then let the industrialist deal with it. When cement is in short supply the same industrialist is willing to pay higher prices, isn't he?

Maybe some farmers would want cash up-front. Maybe other farmers would want a staggered deal, and equity in the factory or facility being constructed. Let the onus of structuring different arrangements and giving the farmer a choice be on industry. Why should the government play fairy godmother?

As a pre-requisite for a land law and a genuine land market, India needs a rigorous and detailed map of its entire land area. Such a map should be easily accessible, including online. Also helpful would be an estimate of rust-belt land or factory land that is lying unused or is enmeshed in legal cases. How can this land be unlocked? Can we have some answers please?

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament from Bengal
Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha) & Chief National Spokesperson

March 29, 2015

We support progressive legislation, not the Land Bill which is draconian

Friends are asking if the Trinamool Congress is both batting and bowling in the same innings of the match in Parliament. Why did we support the Mines and Minerals Bill in Parliament, but strongly oppose the Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to amend the Act of 2013. Actually, we have been consistent. When a law is progressive and states-friendly, we will back it, irrespective of whether the law is framed by a BJP government or a Congress government.

In the case of the Mines and Minerals Bill, we were satisfied that suggestions made by Trinamool in the select committee were incorporated in the final draft. There were several parameters Trinamool used to judge the Bill.

First, local communities were invited as partners in development. Trinamool urged the government to facilitate the setting up of a District Mineral Foundation by state governments. This Foundation would incorporate tribal communities in the mining region and undo their sense of alienation and exploitation. The onus of the composition of the Foundation has been left to the state government. States have also been empowered to set up special courts for quick settlement for mining disputes.

Second, mining makes for windfall gains. It is important to retain these in the country, the state and the community. Here again the Trinamool government’s experience in West Bengal has proved a great learning. Using e-governance we have increased revenues by 87 per cent in the past three years. As such, we welcome the concept of e-auctions.

Of course, there is more that needs to be done. We have recommended that the rules that will complement the Bill should put in place a modern regulatory process for environmentally-friendly mining. We cannot repeat the mistakes of China. The need to bring in scientific and best-in-class technology practices and procedures for mining, using the mechanism of the National Mineral Exploration Trust, is also critical.

It is for these reasons that we supported the Mines and Minerals Bill. The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act are another matter. They make a bad act worse. Trinamool had steadfastly opposed the UPA’s land acquisition law. Now the NDA, by rushing through with an ordinance and refusing to let Parliament deliberate, debate and decide before such trigger-happy action, is making things that much more difficult for farmers and actual users and owners of the land.

The UPA law institutionalised rent-seeking – in the form of giving a blanket mandate, for change of land-use to government authorities. This one completely chips away at the farmer’s ability to make an informed and voluntary choice. The NDA government’s ordinance on the land acquisition law – now set to be re-issued after flagrantly ignoring the sentiments of Parliament and suddenly and unconscionably proroguing the Rajya Sabha – is draconian. It virtually legitimises forcible acquisition of land.

Trinamool will oppose this with all its might.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament from Bengal
Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha) & Chief National Spokesperson

March 08, 2015

Banning beef goes beyond religious connotations

When I mentioned it to him, a well-meaning political friend urged me not to touch the subject or write about it. “Beef is a sensitive issue,” he said, “it has religious connotations. And you are a Christian…”

I thought about it but decided to go ahead anyway. The manner in which the BJP-led government in Maharashtra has banned the cutting, eating and very possession of beef is disturbing. And to me, it is not a religious issue but a broader social and economic one – linked to the liberalism that is the bedrock of our Constitution.

Beef is a cheap meat. It is often called the “poor man's protein”. In Maharashtra it is eaten by Muslims and Christians, and by some Dalit communities that do not belong to religious minorities. As a magnet for economic migrants from across India, the Mumbai-Pune region is also home to many from the Northeast who consume beef.

By banning beef in such a draconian and absolutist fashion, the state government will only drive up prices of other meats. This will have an inflationary impact and will raise household food bills. It will affect livelihoods of traders and butchers who deal with bovine meat.

The decision is impulsive and political and has not considered the impact on agriculture and on the Maharashtra farmer. There are long-standing agrarian problems in the state. One of these is a whopping 61 per cent shortage in fodder, if one compares fodder required for livestock, largely cows and buffaloes, against what is available. With the ban, this fodder shortage will worsen. It will push up input costs for farmers.

Lastly, there is my concern about perceptions and inclusiveness. India is a ‘live and let live’ society. Beef is forbidden among most Hindus and the cow is held sacred. I respect that and am certainly not asking for beef to be served at state banquets or in the Parliament canteen. But to ban its use and consumption even in the privacy of a citizen’s home and kitchen?

It strikes me as odd that I can walk into a supermarket in Dubai – which is not a democracy and not a model for Indian society – enter a sub-section of the meats area and buy pork, which is forbidden in Islam. I have seen simple signs outside such demarcated areas that say: “Pork and pork products: For non-Muslims only”.

Can we not imagine something similar for beef in India? Do bans like this serve any purpose other than simply putting off some people – and contravening the spirit of the Constitution, as the BJP-led government in Mumbai is doing, even without amending it? The pursuit of an agenda of religious divisiveness does not start with grand pronouncements. It starts with relatively small events like these.

That is why I decided to write this piece. I plan to iterate its contents this week in the Rajya Sabha. I hope the Chairman gives me permission.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Leader in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, All India Trinamool Congress

February 22, 2015

By using ordinances the government is mocking Parliament

After President Pranab Mukherjee, it is now Speaker of the Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan who has cautioned against the repeated and knee-jerk use of ordinances. Speaking at a conference in Lucknow, she said, “Ordinances should be kept to the minimum as far as possible. They have a very limited life and need to be passed by Parliament to become a law.”

In recent days, the BJP-led government has sought to brazen it out and issue a series of ordinances. It is threatening to browbeat Parliament, even call repeated and frequent joint sessions of both Houses, to ram through Bills and legitimise its ordinances.

There are many well-qualified lawyers who serve in this government. I am sure they have done their homework and will reach a position that is legalistically correct and validated by technicalities. But is it validated by the larger morality of democracy? Law-making is not diktat; it is arrived at after a process of deliberation. It is the government’s job to either win enough allies and friends in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in an abysmally small majority. Or it is obligated to tailor and amend the draft Bill so that it reflects the hopes and aspirations of the majority of members of the House.

To seek this route is not heresy. Members of the Rajya Sabha reflect the legislative strength of state assemblies. As such, they are as representative of our federal structure as members of the Lok Sabha. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came in promising a better deal for states and a more enlightened approach to federal relations. His over-reliance on ordinances, rejecting the misgivings of state governments and regional parties on key issues such as FDI in insurance and Land Ordinance, does not sit well with his commitment.

Consider the sequence of events. A slew of economic ordinances were promulgated at the end of December. The Winter Session had gone badly for the government. The political mood in the country had changed, with hotheads and bigots from the BJP’s sister organisations and wider ideological family resorting to wild, reckless and provocative actions that threatened social harmony in our country.

To top it all the business community, as well as ordinary people, from their different vantage positions, were beginning to wonder when this government would end its event-management series and get down to actually fixing the economy. Finally, the government was obliged to “do something” before President Barack Obama’s visit lest the BJP’s American associates feel unhappy.

The government responded with the ordinances and by spreading the propaganda that a handful of Bills, some of them objected to in the Rajya Sabha by opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress, were holding up economic development in the country. Was and is this a fair charge? Are new laws and legislative initiatives all that stand between India and high GDP growth?

There are so many things in the government’s domain – including appointment of chief executives to numerous public-sector undertakings, cleaning up the tax office, sorting out the non-performing assets and bad loans of banks, and so much else – that have nothing to do with parliamentary approval. Has the government shown urgency on these matters in the past eight months?

The ordinances have become a convenient and diversionary tool to hide all that the government itself has not achieved, and to mask its failures. Unfortunately, by taking to them so often and reducing them to a political statement rather than what they should be – an emergency provision granted by the Constitution, to be used with care – the government is mocking Parliament.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress

February 18, 2015

Women shakti and the big TMC bypoll win

The recent by-elections in West Bengal, for the Bongaon parliamentary seat and the Krishnaganj assembly seat, resulted in big victories for the Trinamool Congress. They established the trend, evident in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and subsequent by-elections, that Trinamool remains the dominant party in the state. However, the CPI(M) is slipping rapidly from its second position and ceding ground to the BJP. Of course, both these parties are too far behind Trinamool for us to be seriously worried.

For me the story of the by-elections was about women’s power in politics. This is not just a reference to Mamata Banerjee, our stalwart leader, who has fought the onslaught of two successive governments at the Centre now and emerged vindicated, but also of our party’s culture of empowering women down the line.

Only 11 per cent of India’s MPs are women. The Women’s Reservation Bill proposes to take this number to 33.33 per cent. Trinamool already boasts of a 35.12 percentage representation for women in our parliamentary party. The lady who helped us cross this threshold was my colleague Mamatabala Thakur, who has just been elected from Bongaon.

The by-election was necessitated when our MP, Kapil Krishna Thakur, passed away in October 2014. A leading light of the Matua community, there were many contenders for his seat of Bongaon. His brother was a Trinamool MLA and minister in the state government. He resigned and joined the BJP, as did the brother’s son. Now both father and son were contenders for the BJP nomination and the son – nephew of the late Kapil Krishna Thakur – finally got the ticket.

Who would the Matua community back? Would it stay true to Trinamool or would it swing with that section of the Thakur family that had defected to the BJP? The decision was taken by Mamata Banerjee and the 95-year-old matriarch of the Matua community, Binapani Devi, the “Great Mother” of the Matua people, ageing but still sharp as a needle. Rather than back her son or grandson in the BJP – or even her second surviving son (Kapil Krishna Thakur’s other brother) – a new name was proposed: Mamatabala Thakur, the late Kapil Krishna Thakur’s wife.

The lady, a newcomer to politics but very aware of social and economic conditions and challenges among her constituents, won easily. The Matua community, which has its origins in a religious reform movement in erstwhile east Bengal, taught a few lessons in women’s shakti and in consistent, principled politics to city-slicker media honchos, who had all but announced a BJP victory.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress

February 09, 2015

Time I stopped writing columns for ABP / The Telegraph

9 February, 2015

Mr. Aveek Sarkar
The Chief Editor
ABP Group

Dear Mr. Sarkar,

Goodbyes are never easy, but not answering to the call of one's conscience is even harder.

As you are aware I have been contributing three columns to the ABP Group for about 20 years now. These are Knowledge Darpan for Anandabazar Patrika and two quiz columns for Telekids and Graphiti, both supplements of The Telegraph.

All of these columns are apolitical and knowledge-based. I have enjoyed writing them and interacting with my young, enthusiastic and remarkable readers. Unfortunately, I have to stop.

Much as my readers are precious to me, the ABP Group's prejudices are making it impossible for me to continue. I wake up each morning to appalling, tendentious, biased and polemical reportage and commentary that seeks to sensationalise and misrepresent even the most basic facts and occurrences.

In this scenario, I have no choice but to cease writing for the ABP Group and its publications. I do this with a heavy heart, as I have had a long association with it. Unfortunately, the Group's current leadership and management is unequal to the rich, disinterested and intellectually honest legacy it had inherited.

Yours sincerely,

Derek O'Brien
Founder, Chairman and CEO
Derek O’Brien & Associates

January 26, 2015

Why Bengal was kept out of the Republic Day parade

All day several friends have called to ask why the West Bengal tableau was missing from the Republic Day parade in Delhi. The absence has particularly disappointed and hurt a lot of us because West Bengal had won the award for the best tableau in 2014.

There is a back-story to the missing tableau. Kanyashree is the flagship programme for the girl child in our state, and with good reason. Some 17.5 million people in West Bengal are adolescents aged between 10 and 19. Forty-eight per cent of these are girls. Many are poorly educated and in rural, poverty-stricken families seen as an economic burden and an extra mouth to feed. As a consequence, they are married off early, leading to teenage pregnancy and motherhood, and giving rise to a subsequent generation – the children of these adolescent mothers – who perpetuate the cycle of socio-economic challenges, including infant mortality and maternal ill-health.

Under Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress government has been determined to rectify this. That is why we launched the Kanyashree scheme to support and incentivise girls’ education and the postponement of marriage and thereby pregnancy. We also sought to empower girls, who could get educated up to an advanced level and then become economic contributors and earners.

Kanyashree not only supports families with girl children, it actually pushes them into educating their daughters and keeping them in school, without forcing them to drop out. For each year a girl spends in school her family is given Rs. 500. If a girl is still studying at the age of 18, whether in high school or college, her family is given Rs. 25,000, transferred straight to a bank account. This money can be used for higher education or can help at the time of the girl’s wedding, since weddings can be expensive in our society and can inconvenience ordinary parents. (It doesn’t give me much happiness making that last point, but it is a reality).

Kanyashree has progressed extremely well since its inauguration in October 2013. So far 900,000 girls have started receiving benefits and in 2015 another 700,000 girls are expected to be added. The programme has been appreciated by national and international agencies as a model for developing societies. UNICEF partners the West Bengal government in the roll-out of Kanyashree and the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has acknowledged the programme’s achievements.

We had planned to make Kanyashree and the girl child the theme of the West Bengal tableau at the Republic Day. It would have fitted well with the overall national message of encouraging and empowering women. The proposal was sent to the relevant Ministries and Departments in Delhi but was rejected. Many submissions were made, formal and informal, but it was to no avail.

Finally, we were resigned to missing out. It hurt and still hurts, but life has to go on. Only, I am left with a niggling question: were some people worried the focus on Kanyashree would have overshadowed another girl child related programme launched a few days ago… Never mind. There’s always next year.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress

January 20, 2015

Respite for 4000 soldiers... happy to have played a very small role.

It was a weekend in early August and I found myself watching an NDTV programme anchored by Barkha Dutt. One of the studio guests was an articulate young lawyer called Navdeep Singh. He spoke about how pension claims of disabled soldiers, those who had lost limb or suffered injury in the service of India, were often contested by the Ministry of Defence. In fact 90 per cent of the legal cases being fought by the Ministry related to disabled soldiers and their pension claims.

I was left stunned by the figures and by the sheer insensitivity of our bureaucracy. The following morning I phoned Barkha and got Navdeep’s number. After a series of chats with him, I decided on a Special Mention on the issue in the Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2014. In the Mention, I criticised the “shallow pretexts” being used to deny disabled soldiers pensions.

In many cases, the timing of injuries was questioned.“Military Boards have also been rejecting diseases such as neurosis and schizophrenia for being ‘constitutional’ in nature,” I said, “and not aggravated by service conditions. In contrast, pension claims for such diseases are routinely allowed by medical boards of the Central Armed Police Forces under the Home Ministry. Even though the Supreme Court has rendered a series of judgments in favour of the soldiers’ claims, the Ministry of Defence has continued to file appeals against claims at all stages.

The Income Tax Department does not go to the Supreme Court unless the claim amount exceeds Rs 25 lakh. In contrast, the Ministry of Defence hires top lawyers and takes its old soldiers to court for even a few thousand rupees. It is an unequal and unfair battle: “Most soldiers cannot afford the costs of protracted litigation and are forced to abandon their claims.

I requested the defence minister to direct his civil servants to stop filing such frivolous cases. My Special Mention was appreciated by fellow MPs. As I realised, I was not the first to bring the subject to the notice of the House. A parliamentary colleague, Smriti Irani of the BJP, had already done so.

Over the next few months I continued to stay in touch with Navdeep and to be exercised by the cause of our disabled veterans. Unfortunately, the government took no action. On December 10, 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed en masse appeals filed by the Defence Ministry in pension-related matters. After this, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar issued a statement that the Ministry would not be taking forward appeals against old and disabled soldiers in 4,000 separate cases.

Frankly, the Supreme Court has left the Ministry with no choice. This is not a time for point scoring but I do wish the defence minister had made his statement before the court order. I also hope a precedent has been set and in future disabled soldiers, and old soldiers generally, will not have to go from courtroom to courtroom to get due pensions from a government, a system and a country they risked their lives protecting.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress

January 13, 2015

House Games in Flannels

While in school, my sport of choice was football. I was a goalkeeper of some reckoning in local and club-level tournaments. The only reason I made it to the school cricket team (as wicket keeper) was that my friend was the team captain. For the past three years I have been keeping wickets for the Parliamentarians' XI. Every December, towards the end of the winter session, MPs play journalists in a 20-over game. The match is held in good cheer and for a good cause—children's health and fighting childhood diseases. The NGO Global Health Strategies organises an event around the game.

This time, the match was played on December 20, 2014, at the Delhi Public School ground on Mathura Road. The MPs' XI was a multi-party team, though Congress MPs, so visible in previous years, were missing. The Journalists' XI had more television professionals than those from print. Perhaps television journalists are physically fitter and simply run around more than a print journalist!

Batting first, the MPs' XI collapsed to 109 in the allotted 20 overs. Our star batsman in 2013, Mohammad Azharuddin, was not with us, having not been elected in the Lok Sabha polls. Navjot Sidhu was not there either, since he didn't contest the 2014 elections (though some say he did manage to stump his party in his former constituency, but that's another story). Sachin Tendulkar didn't show up. He scarcely makes it to the Rajya Sabha, so he couldn't really be expected to come for the MPs' cricket team.

One by one, all our stars failed, even Kirti Azad and our captain, Anurag Thakur, the two former cricketers in the MPs' XI. I was run out early, the fault of a mix-up with the non-striker, Dushyant Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal. The dynamic duo from the Biju Janata Dal, the movie star Siddhanta Mahapatra and Kalikesh Singh Deo, who had a glittering sports career in The Doon School, also scored poorly. It was left to Manoj Tiwari—not the Bengal and India cricketer but his namesake, the BJP MP from Delhi—to play a lone hand and keep our score respectable.

Chasing 110 in 20 overs shouldn't have been difficult but the Journalists' XI made heavy weather of it, losing six wickets before getting to their target. They suffered a shock after a brilliant run out, effected by a sharp throw from Thakur. For me, this was the moment of the match. It was very impressive fielding and an indicator of just how seriously the match was played. This was no exhibition game, but truly competitive.

On January 24, I am organising a match between MPs and Journalists in Kolkata, at the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club. I am proud to be a member of this club. Founded in 1792, it is the world's second-oldest cricket club, right after the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Our MPs' XI for January 24 will comprise both Bengal MPs and those from other states. I am looking forward to Kirti Azad, who is flying down to Kolkata for the game, hitting the ball out of the playing arena, onto the tramlines outside the club.

In the summer of 2015, an Indian MPs' XI is travelling to London for a cricket match against a British MPs' team. The dates have not been finalised but I expect this will be after the general elections in the United Kingdom in May. Let it be clarified, this is not some junket. The 'cricket tour' will coincide with an official trip being made by MPs in their professional capacity. I am excited about playing on English green. Of course, it would help if my Rajya Sabha colleague, the honourable Mr Tendulkar, were to take guard.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress