The hot air of the no-confidence motion

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There was nothing serious about the Opposition’s attempt to nail the Modi government in the motion

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore)

The drama on July 20 in the Lok Sabha was confined to the chambers of the Lower House of Parliament, to the television news channels and to the front pages of newspapers the next morning. Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s speech lacked punch because it meandered from one failing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to another, from deleterious effects of demonetisation and the ill-executed Goods and Services Tax (GST), from lack of jobs to the neglect of the other backward classes, the Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes and the religious minorities and to lynchings. What stood out was his gesture of walking to Mr Modi’s seat on the other side and embracing an embarrassed and nonplussed prime minister. It took the latter quite some time to recover from his sense of discomfort, and he launched a virulent attack on the Congress president, on the Nehru-Gandhis and the Congress, in that order. There were many who were impressed and even enchanted by Mr Rahul Gandhi’s goodwill gesture, and there were many, including Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and the whole of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners. Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Singh Badal, Minister of State for Food processing, who hit out at the Congress leader’s ‘frolicsome’ gesture. Ms Badal had reason to be angry with the Congress because her party was thrown out of power in Punjab by Mr Gandhi’s party. By the time Mr Modi rose to reply to the motion, quite past dinner hour, he had had enough time to gather ammunition and he fired without a let. So, the admirers of Mr Modi had no hesitation in concluding that the prime minister had effectively demolished the impact of the ‘unwanted’ embrace.

The tragedy, of course, lies in the fact that the no-confidence motion to the Christian gesture of loving your opponent of Mr Gandhi and the no-holds-barred muscular Hindu nationalism of Mr Modi. The BJP did not feel the need to state its achievements in the last four years – there were quite a few, though not as many as they claim to be – and the Opposition just failed to get the facts the real maladies of the economy and of the political atmosphere in the country. There was a sense that politicians from all sides felt that they need not speak of the real issues and what they had to do was to speak as loudly as they could about the perceived evils of the other side. In a democracy, demagoguery and demonology on the one hand of the BJP kind, and angelic criticism of the Rahul Gandhi kind, make for good theatre and bad politics. There would be some who would argue that Mr Modi’s demagoguery and demonology would have a devastating impact compared to the ineffective moralism of Mr Gandhi. The only thing that became clear by the end of July 20 was that Mr Modi would be relentless and vicious in his attacks on the ‘dynasty’ and Mr Gandhi would be a bland knight in shining armour. What is not clear is whether people have any interest in Mr Modi’s belligerent histrionics and whether they would judge him for the performance of his government rather than for his grandiloquence. The BJP leaders, including Mr Modi, despite their desperate tone of defiance, know that it is difficult to take people for granted and until the election result no one knows about the verdict. That literally puts the fear of God in the hearts of the swaggering BJP leaders.

In the last four years, the Lok Sabha has witnessed a government with overwhelming majority having its way and the opposition could not get a word in edgewise. In the 1960s and 1970s a dominant Congress party under Indira Gandhi faced a handful of towering Opposition stalwarts who took the government of the day to task. Today, the opposition stands decimated as well as defanged. And it is not exactly the fault of the BJP that the Opposition had failed to nail the many acts of omission and commission of the Modi government.

The no-confidence motion exposed the weaknesses and divisions in the opposition parties. The Biju Janata Dal had abstained as did the BJP ally, Shiv Sena. The TDP’s heart was not in the attack. Mr Modi and the BJP hope that the fragmented opposition, as seen in the voting in the no-confidence motion, makes it safe to assume that the BJP can hope to win the election narrowly.

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