No-confidence motion: A day for optics and political theatre

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 24, 2018 18:31 hrs
Rahul Gandhi's wink in the Parliament!

A 12-hour debate in Parliament culminated in a victory for the NDA in the no-confidence motion by a 325-126 margin. The highlight of the debate was undoubtedly that hug Congress chief Rahul Gandhi gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This was the first no-confidence vote in Parliament in 15 years and 39 MPs spoke. The BJP didn't have too much to worry about as the numbers were on their side. This, despite some hiccups (the BJD walked out and the Shiv Sena decided to abstain even after BJP chief Amit Shah met them the day before the vote).

It does seem like the BJP-Shiv Sena relationship has hit a rough patch. In the wake of the no-confidence vote victory, Amit Shah has told party workers that they are prepared to move forward without the Shiv Sena.

Rahul Gandhi and Modi's speeches were the ones to watch as the former went after the government on the Rafale Deal with France and questioned the secrecy agreement surrounding the deal. The deal inked in September 2016 with the French government is for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The Congress has accused the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying in parliament when it comes to this deal. Rahul’s speech also touched on the plight of farmers, Modi’s version of crony capitalism, the incidents of lynchings and the Doklam stand-off. He received positive reviews from his allies.

As for the headline-stealing hug, some termed it awkward, uncomfortable, risky and condemnable, while others wondered what the fuss was about.

Ultimately, the no-confidence motion wasn't about the numbers. It was a platform for the country to see where each party stood on the national stage. The debate itself was on familiar lines and territory. As Indrajit Hazra, Editor Views, Economic Times, points out in his column, the trust vote was all about optics and the debate was fairly standard –

"Rahul's trotting off of jumla strikes (in Hindi), accusing the stentorian and visibly disturbed defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of peddling ‘lies’. Rahul was still on familiar ground, both in substance and style."

"The PM's response - itself having the disadvantage of being a response in a no-confidence debate – was, unlike his prime opponents, on familiar lines: Congress arrogance, family ownership, the way the party treated anyone who tried to match the Nehru-Gandhi gaze."

Hazra does state that it didn't matter as to who won or lost the debate, as much as the result of the no-confidence motion mattered stating that it won’t have an effect on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The NDA alliance in a way overachieved in its target.

As for the Shiv Sena situation, it could resolve itself in the days and weeks to come if their praise for Rahul Gandhi's speech is any indication. The Hindu editorial points out the proceedings from last week was only the beginning of the 'political churn' –

"Far from drawing the battle lines for 2019 clearly, the motion brought to light differences within both camps. How the BJP will deal with the Sena's defiance remains to be seen, but they need each other in Maharashtra."

Their abstention was made up for by strong support from the AIADMK whose 37 MPs voted for the government. There is still some dispute as to whether senior leadership of the BJP reached out AIADMK leaders. Given that the state has reasons to be annoyed with the centre on issues such as the Cauvery dispute and NEET, the AIADMK nevertheless went all in for the NDA. This is certainly interesting considering it’s almost certain the former chief minister, the late Jayalalithaa, might not have gone along with the BJP.

The entire aim of the Congress was to attack the government. This would also give people a clearer picture of the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition in action. The challenge as always for the Congress remains to turn this performance into electoral wins.

The editorial in The Hindu underscores that for the Congress, there still lay hard work ahead in building alliances –

"Even the TDP does not appear to be on the side of the Congress... the Congress is not in a position to dictate the terms of alliance in many States. The Trinamool Congress voted with the Opposition, but Mamata Banerjee still talks of a Federal Front of regional parties as the alternative to the BJP."

The alliance and coalition government in Karnataka came under scrutiny in recent days. Other regional parties across the country, the TRS, DMK, RJD and the BJD, will all play a pivotal role in how the Congress builds a national coalition to take on the NDA in 2019.

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