Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien explains a strategy for beating the BJP in 2019

An excerpt from the MP’s book on his life and times in Parliament.

The conclave of opposition parties that took place in Chennai on the occasion of the ninety-fourth birthday of senior DMK leader M Karunanidhi was the second in a month. The first meeting in Delhi had been attended by Mamata Banerjee. I represented my party in Chennai for the second meeting.

The irony was that my previous visit to Chennai had been on a sad day, to attend the funeral of then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. This was a more relaxed visit and the mood was upbeat. Such is political life – or perhaps life itself.

And it was not all politics. The birthday celebrations of the grand old patriarch of Tamil Nadu evoked genuine happiness. I experienced southern hospitality at its finest, as did so many of my colleagues from other parties. We were all received with a cardamom garland, a first for me. Like at the earlier Delhi meeting, a gamut of parties, from the Trinamool to the National Conference, from the Congress to the Left, were present in Chennai. Nitish Kumar, the JD (U) president and chief minister of Bihar, emphatically declared that he had come with the good wishes of Lalu Yadav of the RJD, who couldn’t make it because of high fever. (The months between the summer and the monsoons were only a few; time enough for Nitish Kumar to turn his back on the mandate given to the Mahagathbandhan and sheepishly embrace his old ally.)

The informal buzz in the air throughout the birthday celebration was the prospect of a joint candidate for the presidency.

We, in the opposition, were keen to arrive at a choice by consensus. But to make this a reality the government would have to announce the name of its candidate first, and clear his or her credentials. This never happened. Instead, the government sent three senior ministers on a just-for-show-mission that pretended to bring the opposition on board. (Messrs M&S keep their cards so close to their chest, no one else at the table matters. So, when the BJP waxes eloquent on inner-party democracy, one can only smirk in scorn.)

A lot happens on the opposition front in the months between sessions of Parliament. Parliament was to meet next for the monsoon session. In the interim, these conclaves had become events for the parliamentary members of various opposition parties to meet and coordinate. The only party missing was the AAP, but I knew that it was with us in spirit. Arvind Kejriwal’s party is a strong voice of the opposition. (The Congress must not allow Delhi politics to get in the way, and must be gracious enough to invite the AAP when the opposition meets on a “national stage”.)

In the last week of August 2017, the third opposition conclave took place in Patna.

It was hosted by Lalu Yadav, who took the lead role. Mamata Banerjee was the star attraction. Lalu’s sons, Tejaswi and Tejpratap, have their contrasting styles but seem to have inherited the genes for connecting with the grass roots in Bihar. Akhilesh Yadav of the SP was there too. The crowd at the historic Gandhi maidan in Patna would have given turncoat Nitish Kumar more than a few sleepless nights. The BJP, too, squirmed. People have a habit of punishing you when you betray them.

The idea was to work together, especially as regional parties (even though Trinamool has now earned the status of a National Party from the Election Commission). The government is trying to write a false narrative around a ten-letter word: corruption. We, the opposition, must set the narrative right with another ten-letter word: competence. On the competence quotient (CQ), the BJP can’t win. This could be the common ground for 2019 (or, for that matter, even 2018. Don’t rule out an early election).

This is the narrative which the opposition has to set, without any distractions, so that we can present the people of India an alternative to this prejudiced and underperforming government. This common, constructive agenda would need to be communicated using different languages, different idioms, different political leaders, to ensure that the BJP is made to fight twenty-nine different elections in twenty-nine different states. I am convinced that they are beatable.

It is appropriate that the conclaves of the opposition began in Delhi, located in the north of the country, before moving south to Chennai and then east to Patna. This reflects the diversity of India that the opposition represents. A diversity the BJP can never come to symbolise.

Excerpted with permission from Inside Parliament: Views From The Front Row, Derek O’Brien, HarperCollins India.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.