Who is Tathagata Satpathy?
Meet the Indian parliamentarian who is tuned in and willing to speak his mind
New Delhi: Amidst the cacophony of aggressive voices from both the government and the opposition during the debate on the Jawaharlal Nehru University row and the death of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula, the speech by senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Tathagata Satpathy came as a breath of fresh air.
“I am heartbroken to say that the youth of the country doesn’t deserve us. We are the most undeserving set of people to be in this House today,” Satpathy, who represents Dhenkanal Lok Sabha constituency in the Lok Sabha, said.
He went on to say: “I am not interested in taking sides with any of these parties. I am here to hear who has a word of solace and point of solution to the problems that the nation is facing today. Is it only votes that matter? Is it just us and them?”
His speech went viral on social media with people praising him for taking the matter above politics. This is not the first time that Satpathy has stood out among other parliamentarians. On several other occasions in the past, he has articulated his views on women’s reservation, crimes against women, net neutrality, Section 377 and even legalisation of cannabis.
During an AMA (ask me anything) session on Reddit last year, Satpathy admitted that he had smoked cannabis. “While in college, I have smoked (and unlike Bill Clinton have inhaled) cannabis many a times. In villages of Orissa, many people openly smoke and, as their representative, I am not entitled to be judgmental.”
Speaking to Mint after his speech in Parliament, Satpathy said he speaks his mind, does not fear controversies and believes in change through debate.
The 59-year-old, also the chief whip of the BJD, is the son of Odisha’s only woman chief minister Nandini Satpathy. He is currently serving his fourth term as a member of the lower house of Parliament. A journalist by profession, Satpathy is the owner and editor of leading Odia daily Dharitri and English daily Orissa Post.
“We have been harping on rights for far too long. Time has changed to expose the wrongs,” Satpathy said. He added that it is time politicians start talking truthfully and make citizens conscious of their duties and responsibilities. “India is going through a churning. I am an optimist. I see good times ahead.”
Even during the monsoon session last year, when 25 Congress MPs were suspended, Satpathy spoke up in the lower house and made a strong plea against taking up any legislative business in the absence of MPs from several opposition parties, including Congress.
Though Satpathy does not have a personal Twitter or Facebook account, his office runs a Twitter account on his behalf at @SatpathyLive. “I am more a print media guy. I regret to say that I am not very social media savvy, though I am very social. I love to sit down with my friends and chat,” he said.
His attendance record in the current Lok Sabha has been 93% as opposed to an average of 83% for parliamentarians. In the 16th Lok Sabha, he has participated in a total of 34 debates and asked three questions, according to the New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research.
“Parliament is partisan when it comes to giving more time and importance to leaders from parties. Someone like Satpathy would be heard and much more noticed outside Parliament than inside. His is a sane and rational voice. The point that he made on Tuesday about us and them is very critical. The way we are, our politicians are, there seems to be no middle ground and in that way he was making a very important statement,” said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
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