Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, in New Delhi, July 10. (Manvender Vashist/PTI)
On July 20,before the majority of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government was put to test on the floor of the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of the Parliament by a no-confidence motion (NCM) led against it by the opposition parties, Modi announced on Twitter, “Today is an important day in our Parliamentary democracy. I am sure my fellow MP colleagues will rise to the occasion and ensure a constructive, comprehensive & disruption free debate. We owe this to the people & the makers of our Constitution. India will be watching us closely,” writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.
The No-Confidence Motion that metamorphosed into a show of optics rather than as a serious attempt to muster up strength to dislodge the government was initiated by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Member of Parliament (MP) Jayadev Galla, whose subject dwelled on the interests of Andhra Pradesh suffering at not being accorded a special status.
Thereafter, the debate ensued for 12 long hours, with a total of 39 MPs speaking for and against the motion, before the voting concluded with 325 members siding with Modi, as opposed to the 126 who went against him.
In the last 15 years, this was the first time a ruling dispensation had faced a NCM, though an unsuccessful attempt was made by the TDP during the Parliamentary budget session when it had freshly dismembered from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Internationally the concept of NCM was first heard of in West Germany, and later in more European nations.
It’s legality in India is such that though the Constitution per semakes no mention of it, Article 75 implicitly states, “The council of ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People” which means the majority of Lok Sabha members must support the PM and his cabinet.
Procedures mandate the NCM needs to be accepted by the speaker of the house on conditions that it is backed by not less than 50 members before a debate and voting are allowed.
To stay in power, the ruling government needs a majority of at least 273 votes, if all members are present, while it may also be possible that the PM suggests dissolution of the House before the vote.
The first instance of NCM in free India was when the country had just come out of the crushing 1963 India-China war, and Acharya Kriplani of the Praja Socialist Party challenged Jawaharlal Nehru’s government, though the latter countered it with 285 votes.
Since then there have been 25 more NCMs, of which one failed to get to the voting stage as Morarji Desai, the then PM, resigned, and then the last one that was moved against Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the NDA in 2003 by ex-Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
This time hence, the NCM came in the backdrop of most state elections over and 2019 General Elections less than a year away which means the primary concern of all political parties must be to engage in preparing election strategies, polishing their manifestos and employing all skills and tactics towards potential alliances and burning bridges between competitors.
Since the Modi juggernaut went national and spread to 22 states, dreams and ambitions of too many regional players have been more or less suffused.
But now with the successful government formation by Congress and JD (S) in Karnataka, who outmaneuvered the BJP, only a dozen seats away from the majority mark, by combining their miniscule share of seats, there is a new-found confidence amongst them and the chief opposition party, Congress headed by Rahul Gandhi.
The NCM, thus unleashed an opportunity for Gandhi to launch a full-frontal attack on Modi and his team, and also to test the solidarity of allies of the Mahagathbandhan (large coalition) against the BJP.
A glance of Gandhi’s speech reveals that it was based on all too familiar grounds—mob lynching, cow vigilantism, violence against minorities and Dalits, unemployment, ‘jumlas’ (long list of unfulfilled promises), ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ (government of Modi’s crony capitalists), women’s safety, plight of farmers, Doklam stand-off and the secrecy surrounding the acquisition of 36 Rafael fighter jets.
Though he also tried hard to project himself as the more compassionate side by attributing his understanding of Hinduism and Shaivism from the BJP and RSS, it cannot be defined as anything but a self-goal.
Then of course the unwanted hug and the after-wink opened more doors of doubt than approval.
Even if his speech was described as more confident and spontaneous by some, and immature, non-serious and poor in quality by others, the lack of substantial issues and blatant misquoting of facts on Rafael deal that was immediately clarified and denied by the French government, rubbished all gains that Rahul could have accrued from this motion.
However, this does not absolve the center of its duty to come out clean in this controversy by opening up on costs at least to a specially designated committee.
In sharp contrast, Modi did not hesitate in taking full advantage of the motion by attacking the credibility of the Congress as a potential partner in any effort for unity among ‘federal parties’ and accused Gandhi of usurping this opportunity to project himself as the PM candidate when his allies have not come up with any consensus candidate.
In reply to a remark of Gandhi, Modi listed many stalwarts from the past and present who were punished by being left on the wayside when they had dared to “match their gaze” with Gandhi, and recounted the number of times the Congress had committed “dhoka” (betrayal) by moving NCMs against their own coalition partners – Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral, in the past and which eventually led to Atal Bihari Vajpayee coming to power.
His speech had no mention of Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress who played a significant role in getting all federal powers together, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, whose government was brought down by the BJP just lately, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, and BSP supremo Mayawati.
The softer approach towards other regional players was evident from the time when the speaker accepted TDP’s notice of NCM, declaring it to be an accommodation of regional aspirations.
Not just restraint but Modi went on to assuage Andhra Pradesh and Telangana players by blaming the Congress for causing an unplanned and messy division of the state to serve its own political ends.
One may do well to remember that the TDP has a particular disliking of the Congress for dividing Andhra Pradesh.
Notwithstanding criticisms he had faced in recent times from leaders of Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, Modi praised the party for displaying “maturity” and getting on with the development of Telangana and reminded the special package accorded to Andhra Pradesh in accordance with the 14thFinance Commission.
If the TRS walked out before the voting because it saw no benefit in allying with any, the BJP ally, Shiv Sena’s abstention from voting revealed a certain temporary defiance which too did not count for much as 37 MPs of the AIADMK voted in favor of Modi.
If the NCM revealed more cracks within the federal opponents of the BJP, their hesitation in accepting Gandhi as the PM candidate and tricky waters for the Congress to remain in the lead in any anti-BJP alternative, it also brought forth the clever maneuvering of Modi and his party to creep near its opponents to thwart their combined hostile bid.