The Modi Government’s willingness to promptly take up the no-confidence motion moved against it by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and supported by a clutch of opposition parties, took the Centre’s rivals by surprise. They expected stonewalling, which would have given them an excuse to disrupt Parliament’s functioning in the way they did during the last session — which was a washout in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. With their demand readily conceded, they had no option but to let the House function. And so, on the first day of the Monsoon Session, a couple of Bills were passed and the Question Hour proceeded normally.
That said, what was the purpose of moving a no confidence motion against the Government? It could not have been motivated by the prospect of defeating it on the floor of Parliament, because the opposition simply does not have the numbers. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi remarked: “Who says we don’t have the numbers?” But that is faux optimism. Its reminds one of her march to the President some twenty years ago with the false claim that her party-led combine had the numbers to form a Government. The TDP’s motion supported by others is certain to be defeated. The Congress’s real aim in seeking to ride piggy-back on the TDP’s move is two-fold. First, it wants to corner the Government on various contentious matters ranging from the economy to issues such as lynching, to ‘atrocities’ against the Scheduled Castes etc. Second, the Congress wishes to demonstrate that when it comes to a stand against the Modi regime, the opposition is united.
There is a problem here, though. Opposition unity may be apparent on the floor of the House, but that is useful only when it can dislodge the Government. Otherwise, defeating the party which rules is possible only in the electoral arena. The reality in the second case is starkly evident. There had been talks of a third front of various parties excluding the Congress, to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party. But the scenario has not materialised, and is unlikely to for the 2019 general election. Besides, strong regional satraps have clearly refused to accept Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership in any grand coalition. That leaves the Congress and its allies isolated to fight not just the BJP but also these regional parties. Now the only hope they all nurture is some sort of a post-election alliance to keep the BJP out of power.
On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the Shiv Sena responds, given that it has already served notice to the BJP about severing its ties with the NDA. Also to be watched will be the response of ‘non-committal’ parties such as the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal. Both have been supportive of the Union Government on select issues, but at least the latter one is gearing up for a tough electoral battle against the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha and State election (Odisha). The Trinamool Congress and the Left parties are both backing the no-trust motion, but they are still going to be bitter rivals in the electoral field. The Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s BSP, both backers of the no-trust move, are moving towards an alliance in Uttar Pradesh — but here too the Congress is yet not a partner in the grand scheme.
The no confidence motion is a good opportunity for both the opposition and the Government to present their case before the public. Regardless of the known outcome, the debate can set the tone for the coming Lok Sabha election, and even influence voters to an extent. Which is why every party is expected to put its best foot forward. Although the Congress and its allies as well as those others supporting the motion believe that they have enough ammunition to put the Government on the mat, it is also a fact that the Modi regime has material to embarrass and expose the opposition’s position on a number of issues. Thus, while the opposition can raise matters of hate crimes including lynching, as well as jobless growth, the Government will emphasise on the opposition’s ambivalence on gender equality, particularly among the Muslim community. On issues of triple divorce and polygamy, the Government’s stand has been hailed by progressive elements within the minority community, who have also slammed the Congress and other opposition members for their reluctance to back the Government’s move to penalise those convicted on triple divorce cases. The BJP is also expected to reiterate its commitment towards the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes — for the first, it will cite the initiative it took in strengthening the Act that protects the SC/STs, and for the second it will read out the efforts it has taken in its bid to give constitutional status to the OBC panel.
The good part about the discussion that takes place is that the public will have facts and figures from both sides of the political spectrum. Debates that happen in television studios are no substitute, partly because they are more rhetorical than substantial and partly because they tend to divert from the core issues. Besides, there is too much of slanging for them to be credible.