BJP's attempt to duck no-confidence motion despite having the numbers indicates reluctance to take on Opposition
The BJP-led government does not really fear the numbers in the event of a no-confidence motion. However, it would not want to expose itself to criticism through this.
The government is primarily responsible for ensuring smooth functioning of the House, as per parliamentary procedure. The Speaker has a constitutional mandate to take any action to ensure that the House is in order and proceedings are taken up. Yet, it seems that although the BJP-led government has the numbers to defeat a no-confidence motion, it is using the divisions in the non-BJP camp to ensure that it does not come up for discussion. This is because the Opposition is not only energetic but more united after the recent defeats of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
The surge in regionalism poses a political and ideological challenge to the BJP which wants to thrust one nation, one party; one nation, one language, etc. The fault lines in the ruling NDA are clear, though the Shiv Sena could be brought on board for the time being. Emotive issues like special status for Andhra Pradesh, the Cauvery question and the PNB fraud would certainly be a source of potential embarrassment for the government. The pandemonium in the House seems to be engineered as the AIADMK and TRS are determined to disrupt order, thus helping the government realise its objective.
MN Kaul and SL Shakdher, in "Practice and Procedure of Parliament", say that one of the fundamental postulates of a parliamentary democracy is the principle of collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the popularly elected House. The government can be in power as long as it enjoys the confidence of the House. Thus, a no-confidence motion should be given precedence over any other aspect in parliamentary proceedings. It is the duty of the ruling party to ensure that the House functions smoothly and the Speaker has full powers to ensure order in the House. No court can question these powers. The Supreme Court of India in Raja Ram Pal versus Hon'ble Speaker of Lok Sabha (2007) upheld the power even to expel a member. Despite such sweeping powers, why is order not being ensured in the House so that the important motion of no-confidence can be taken up?
The government does not really fear the numbers. The BJP is not worried about political management within Parliament. Even after the exit of the TDP, the NDA combine enjoys a comfortable majority. The Shiv Sena, despite some initial anxiety, has sent positive signals to the BJP by calling the no-confidence motion an immature step. The Akalis have reinforced their confidence in Modi. The AIADMK, despite its political posturing on the Cauvery issue, is not ready to oppose the BJP given the serious corruption allegations on the government and the internal fragility in the party. The TRS is sending confusing signals to the Opposition by holding parleys with senior leaders of the anti-BJP camp and adopting tactics inside Parliament that ultimately benefit the BJP. This strengthens the suspicion that the pink party is an ally in reserve for the saffron brigade. Thus, the Modi government can easily sail through the no-confidence tide. In fact, it is not numerically a tide. However, the issues underneath certainly worry the BJP.
As per the parliamentary procedures, as quoted in MN Kaul and SL Shakdher, et al , the discussion on a motion of no-confidence need not be confined to the ground mentioned in the notice of motion. It is open to any member to raise any other matter he or she likes during the course of discussion on the motion. Even the matters on which a separate discussion has taken place in the same session can be brought up.
This is precisely the reason why the government is feeling uncomfortable. It will be subjected to vehement criticism by a united and spirited opposition. Any discussion that allows for scathing criticism in an election year is something the government would want to avoid.
Although the BJP has little or no political stakes in Andhra Pradesh, the exit of the TDP on the special status issue has certainly hit the credibility of the BJP as a party that is ready to accommodate the genuine concerns of its allies. Issues like the Cauvery dispute can be a serious embarrassment as the elections to Karnataka are round the corner. The Karnataka government endorsing the demand of the Lingayats for a separate religion is a difficult pill for the saffron party to swallow at a time when state faces elections. Rural and agrarian distress, the gravity of which is illustrated by the Maharashtra farmers' long march, cannot easily be defended by the Modi government. The government has tried to woo this key segment of the electorate by claiming to have focussed on the agricultural sector in the Union Budget 2018. Further, the bank frauds can no longer be dismissed as a creation of the UPA as these fraudsters left the country under the Modi dispensation.
It is not that the BJP cannot defend itself. However, it would prefer to avoid keeping a focus on such issues in the run-up to Assembly elections in key states followed by the 2019 general elections.
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