Why is the government scared of admitting the no-confidence motions pressed by the Telugu Desham Party (TDP) and YSR Congress Party in the Lok Sabha?
The BJP and NDA allies have comfortable majority in the House, down from 336 but still 314 members. The BJP on its own too has majority, albeit a slender one - from 282 in 2014 to 274 now.
The numbers should give confidence to the government to face the Opposition. Besides NDA allies, some other regional parties too such as the BJD, the AIAMDK, the TRS have said they wouldn’t support no-confidence motion or will stay neutral.
If the government is confident of winning the no-trust vote, it should admit the motions and be done with it. It should let the TDP and YSRCP have a go if they manage 50 members standing in favour of the motion with support from other parties.
But the BJP is demoralised after setbacks in the recent by-elections. It’s resorting to all sorts of tricks to stall the motion on one pretext or the other. The ruling party floor managers have been giving the excuse that the motions could not be taken up by the speaker because of the ruckus created by the AIADMK and the TRS.
That’s a lame excuse. The fact is that BJP is hand in glove with the AIADMK and the TRS. The BJP could have easily persuaded the AIADMK and the TRS to stop disruptions to clear way for admission, discussion and vote on no-confidence motions against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
AIADMK leader in the Lok Sabha M Thambidurai, who is also the deputy speaker of the House, hinted at collusion when he didn’t deny his party being in contact with the BJP. But he justified the AIADMK members’ conduct in the House on the ground that the government had not responded to their demand on the Cauvery river issue on the floor.
The government’s conduct in Parliament confirms the Congress and other Opposition parties’ charge that it’s avoiding discussions on important issues being raised by the Opposition.
But why would the government be interested in Parliament not transacting any business? Doesn’t the government have important programmes, populist or otherwise, to push through in the penultimate year of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Conventional wisdom suggests that with not much time left, the government should have been pushing vote-catching agendas or populist programmes during the current year. The Modi government’s conduct suggests it has given up on pushing any significant reform agenda and passing important bills.
It’s difficult to understand why the government has allowed the Budget session - the last full Budget session under Modi’s current term - to be washed out? The budget itself was passed amid din without being discussed, and without the finance minister’s reply.
Going by the trend, Parliament may witness the standoff even in the forthcoming sessions a few months from now.
The standoff has intensified after the by-elections setbacks for the BJP. If the government is demoralised, the Opposition has become emboldened. Opposition parties are smelling a chance of victory.
The mood of the House was clear from the beginning of the Budget session. The government as well as the Opposition looked determined to go for confrontation leaving little or no room for compromise and consensus.
Hardening of stances on part of both treasury and the opposition benches at the start of the session led to an unprecedented situation during the prime minister’s reply on the motion of thanks to the president’s address to the joint session of Parliament.
Disrupting the speech of the prime minister, the leader of the House, amounts to showing disrespect to the president. Members of the House are supposed to observe the convention and decency.
But neither the Opposition nor the prime minister showed any decency. Modi launched on a blistering and shrill political speech from the word go as the Congress on instructions of Rahul Gandhi resorted to sloganeering.
In view of total breakdown of communication and loss of trust between the government and the Opposition, no-confidence motions can sort of provide the much-needed relief. The debate on the motion, when admitted, will test the warring sides’ strategies and resolve.
It will test who stands where. It will provide an indication of evolving nature of political realignment in the country in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections. It will expose the fence sitters.
The process of realignment has been set in motion after the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections. Even those who argue against the results to be extrapolated at the national level will agree that the outcomes of the by-elections have forced some NDA allies to come out of the closet. Some have begun deserting the sinking ship and other have started working on alignments and realignments.
If no-confidence motions fall, which it will given the Lok Sabha arithmetic, Modi will come out buoyant and stronger for the moment. It would give his government a breathing space. Modi can stand up thereafter and challenge the Opposition to get down to brass tracks. He can legitimately get down to the business of working on welfare programmes and attending to the problems of the people.
But Modi doesn’t appear to be in search of what he needs most: Political legitimacy. He should realise that he has the numbers on his side, but he lacks legitimacy. Mere numbers don’t bring legitimacy.
The first no-confidence motion against the Modi government will not just be a test of majority. It will be more about legitimacy of Modi and the government he heads.