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No-confidence motion? In Parliament Modi system remains in place. The question is for how long

By Anand K Sahay*
Since the Modi dispensation is not above disregarding convention and rules (it smuggled in its fundamentally altered Aadhaar template as a money bill in order to escape scrutiny in the Rajya Sabha where its numbers were deficient), it should occasion little surprise if Speaker Sumitra Mahajan does not allow the no-confidence motion for which notices have been given.
Ordinarily, if procedurally sound in having the backing of at least 50 MPs, a no-confidence motion must be taken up at the first opportunity- effectively speaking Monday morning as the Lok Sabha meets, in this case.
The opposition, which is on the warpath, can’t bet on this not happening. A simple trick is all that is needed to be performed. Since there aren’t so many working days left before the Budget Session ends, with the help of some of its supporters the BJP can finesse the movers of the motion with ease by citing unruliness in the House.
If the House is not brought to order, a no-confidence motion cannot be taken up. And of course the Speaker -- the good sport -- may be expected to shrug her helplessness. In the record books the episode will take its place among a long list of unprecedented happenings in the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha is far from eroded, but the government is breaking into a sweat. It is doubtless aware that its stock in the country has sunk after the near defeat in Gujarat, the private turf of Modi and his first servant Amit Shah. The electoral ambush by the rural folk of Gujarat was followed in quick succession by humiliations in Parliamentary and Assembly by-elections across the Hindi heartland of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These are electoral landscapes which had made Modi Prime Minister and where the RSS is said to have magical powers.
It is the clear lack of ambiguity in the situation that is so compelling. There is little doubt that the government has the numbers. The no-confidence motion will be roundly defeated in case it is permitted to be moved. And yet the regime is running for cover.
The reason is that the lack of confidence in the Modi crypto-dictatorship has been expressed in black and white by a party -- the TDP -- which only a week earlier was a part of the ruling dispensation and had been buddies with the BJP for close on two decades.
In fewer than four lurching years of Modi rule, this spells a crisis of credibility for the saffron brigade whose reverberations will be felt at least until the next Lok Sabha election. And even afterward it may become commonplace to hear how the BJP has a policy of use-and-throw for allies. This makes the RSS-BJP untrustworthy partners. That’s a dreadful reputation to have.
(Think of the time last year when Bihar CM Nitish Kumar was left stranded and made to look like a liveried footman, which he has turned out to be of course. After he had jumped ship and signed up to be with the BJP, he arrived in New Delhi expecting to be feted. In the Central Hall of Parliament, as he strode up smiling to shake hands with the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi turned away and began pumping the hand of former Haryana CM Bhupinder Hooda instead. Hooda just happened to be passing by.)
The TDP moving the no-trust motion lays bare the fragilities that abound within the BJP-led NDA. This is why permitting the motion to be debated on the floor of Parliament is likely to be more than a mere embarrassment as colour will start running from carefully dry-cleaned drapes, and the nation will watch the spectacle live on television (unless the government switches off Lok Sabha TV).
This could also be a moment for the Shiv Sena, another coalition partner of the BJP, to perk up and give the dagger another turn. The SS, which is BJP’s government partner in Maharashtra but is always looking for ways to string up its cocky ally, has still not opened its hand.
For the BJP the dread remains that it could vote with TDP and against the government. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, the Sena’s representative could spit venom when he rises to speak on the no-trust motion and the BJP will have no place to hide.
To end any of these possibilities from taking shape, all that the government need do is to use tricks to bypass the no-confidence motion and bring the Budget Session to a close. The finance bill and the appropriations bill have already been passed amidst noise and protests, and without debate.
It is worth pondering if any of this really matters in the end. The government’s name is mud already. The youth can’t find work. Industry is facing serious problems. Agriculture is in crisis. Farmers have agitated in different places and have been shot at by the police. Not many days ago about 50,000 dead poor tribal farmers from the interiors of Maharashtra marched for a week to pour into Mumbai with cracked and swollen feet to press their demands.
They waved the red banner of the communists but residents of Maximum City -- home to the crème de la crème of India’s industry and finance -- gave them an affectionate welcome. Even the Shiv Sena -- ideological creatures of a regional variety of Hindutva -- met the marchers with sympathy. The rural-urban gap was bridged. The message is: the people are rising. Tricks played in Parliament may become just a footnote for the clerks to record.
When the heartland has been blasted open, who remembers Tripura, except for the felling of the Lenin statue, Atilla the Hun style, and the meaningful silence of the Prime Minister which was broken only when a bust of Shyama Prasad Mookerji, the founder of the Jana Sangh, BJP’s precursor, was laid low in Kolkata by vandals in another despicable act?
Lenin was a friend of the Indian people when they were up against colonial rule. He had advised the Indian communists -- debunking MN Roy’s thesis -- to pipe down and get in step with Gandhi’s mass movement. But the Atilla brigades only remembered him as a “foreigner” and proclaimed that rampaging Hindus armies can have no place for such a man. But Lenin is passé. Goose-stepping Hindu brigades have no place for Gandhi either.
Nirmal Kumar Bose, the great anthropologist and culturist and Gandhi’s secretary when the Mahatma visited Noakhali to quell communal blood-letting with his moral force, had this to say about Gandhi and Lenin: “In the midst of gloom which encircles mankind on all sides, there are always men who struggle with the surrounding darkness... Of such men in the present age, we can think of two who successfully fought the battle... Lenin and Gandhi.”
But the genus Modi is abroad, and such reflections must take pause. The reality, however, is that the statue of Vivekananda also may not be safe from the iconoclasts. This patriotic Hindu visionary, admired by both Gandhi and Nehru, was keenly aware that religion was being used as a tool by the foreign rulers to sow discord among the people.
Thus he made inter-faith awareness and harmony a key undertaking. This was the reason he was feted practically as a rock-star after his famous Chicago address in 1893. But don’t tell this to the Atilla armies of our day. They are certain to bring statues of the famous Swami down. It is just as well that they remain in ignorance about the real Vivekananda.
In Parliament the Modi system remains in place. The question is for how long. That’s a story worth tracking. But outside these chambers the people are on the move.
---
A version of this article appeared in The Wire

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