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