Lok Sabha member Tathagata Satpathy has gone "viral" on the web, not for a foot-in-mouth moment or an absent sense of humour. He won numerous fans by inviting people to "ask him anything" on Reddit, the user-generated social media forum, and then took the grilling sportingly.
Satpathy participated in a cracker of a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), or a Q&A session, sharing policy insights and talking about smoking cannabis with convincing honesty and a sense of humour over the course of an hour.
The MP from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), who represents Dhenkanal constituency of Odisha, was witty from the word go. His very first response earned him brownie points for a reference to Pink Floyd.
"An MP who gets Floyd references. Why can't you be my MP?" wrote user Deepit6431.
User Eepsu asked Satpathy about his party’s take on decriminalising the use of cannabis.
Pat came the MP’s reply: "BJD's election manifesto definitely did not contain anything on cannabis. While in college, I have smoked (and unlike 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."
He added: "BTW cannabis, luckily, is legal in certain states in India, like Orissa. You can walk up to a government excise shop and buy your day's need."
Satpathy’s nonchalant response also triggered discussions on the legality of cannabis use in India.
"Who would have thought a politician impresses Reddit better than a film star (priyanka chopra) or a startup ceo (zomato)," Reddit user Naive_babes said while praising Satpathy.
In a smart move, Satpathy disclosed while announcing the Reddit session that his views “should definitely not be attributed to those of my party and leadership. I am answering these questions as a citizen of India. All views expressed here are personal."
Satpathy is the BJD’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha. The four-time MP is a journalist by profession and the editor of two newspapers, Dharitri (Oriya) and Orissa Post (English).
His mother Nandini Satpathy served as chief minister of Odisha during 1972-76. His father Devendra Satpathy was a politician and represented the same constituency.
Satpathy was helped by members of his policy team, notably user Kumbhakaran. It was clear that the MP had done his homework to ensure an efficiently coordinated chat.
Kumbhkaran too answered questions, cracked jokes and took the discussion forward with a new thread: "Using Reddit India to get policy inputs for Parliament: Learnings from AMA with /u/tathagatasatpathy".
Other highlights of the session were its informal natural and Satpathy's well-thought out responses.
Though the AMA session is over, Satpathy is here to stay. The politician has said he wants to take suggestions from the Reddit community for discussions in parliament. Kumbhkaran's post requesting policy inputs is a step towards this effort.
"I believe this could prove to be a game changer for public participation in policy," Kumbhkaran wrote on Reddit.
Satpathy followed in the footsteps of Ashwin Mahesh of Karnataka's Lok Satta Party, who was the first politician to hold an AMA in April 2013.
Satpathy is in the company of noted individuals like US President Barack Obama, pop star Madonna and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who fielded questions from the International Space Station. Obama's AMA is the highest rated yet and brought down many parts of Reddit due to a spike in traffic to the site.