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For Congress, no-confidence motion in Parliament isn't about nuisance value, but self-preservation

Even as Delhi awaits the full force of the monsoon, the Parliament is weathering a veritable storm. For the first time in 15 years — of which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has had but four, a no-confidence motion is underway, giving Narendra Modi's government its first and most potent parliamentary challenge. A challenge, however, is constructed by its challengers, and with an adversary as the Indian National Congress, it appears improbable, if not impossible, that the BJP will not rise to meet it.

Perhaps, then, as argued here, this is another meeting where a feeble Opposition meets a formidable dispensation. The winner, of course, is predetermined — this is how the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. But colouring the episodic juncture of the no-confidence motion in the vein of the unexceptional is problematic; it denies political history its complexity and the world its tumult. It is not untrue that the BJP, too, has attempted to upstage governments at the Centre, but it is also not untrue that as the incumbent in the contemporary moment, the BJP faces a no-confidence motion from an adversary whose own confidence has been unprecedentedly enfeebled.

Congress members in the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. PTI

Congress members in the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. PTI

That the Congress today cuts a sorry figure as a partial shadow of its chequered past is political reality. One would not go as far as to call its post-poll alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka an admission of defeat and subordination, but that a national party at the supposed Centre of national Oppositional energy agreed to play second fiddle merely to keep another away, electorally and 'morally', spells the Congress' political weakness in curmudgeonly characters.

Rarely has the national bent at the regional, but the no-confidence motion that the Congress is attempting to shepherd reveals that this may well be a political truth whose time has come. This article establishes that the ominous winds of the 'third' coalition that appears to be in the offing are implicit in the making of the motion. The Congress, it is argued, needs this vote for the creation of its 'pre-poll blueprint' for it would reveal, as clearly as it could, whom the party can expect in its ranks in its electoral and political struggle against the BJP. In making the no-confidence motion a matter between the Congress and the BJP, however, the author quickly returns to nationalise the narrative. There are regional forces and their personifications, but being of localistic vision, they must necessarily be led into waging a national affront by a suitably national and nationalist creature (here, the Congress). In the terrain of the no-confidence motion, this is an empty script, as if the regional is an empty subject forever in service of the national.

The stage of the no-confidence motion is national, but its script is distinctly regional. The Congress has attempted to hold on to its national frame, but it has also realised, however difficult it may have been, that there will be times more often than sometimes where it will have to be overwhelmed by regional forces and faces, issues and icons. Karnataka was its climax, and the Congress has not escaped unscathed — the imagination of an all-region coalition against the two protagonists of national rule has been birthed, and in presenting itself as the face of Oppositional force through the motion, the Congress is struggling, in its feverish insecurity, to become its midwife.

It is no pedantic detail that the no-confidence motion is primarily and predominantly the work of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) for whom the motion is national only as an afterthought. Socio-culturally, the party has its political purpose in the assertion of Telugu identity, and politically, its moorings in an anti-Congress position to which it remains tethered to date. N Chandrababu Naidu's 18-point missive to his MPs is instructive in reading the passions of the no-confidence motion — he asks that the Central government's neglect of Andhra Pradesh be bemoaned, such as in its staggering revenue deficit, its problems in developing Visakhapatnam as a commercial and industrial complex through its petro-chemical arrangement and railway complex, among other assorted regional, not national, issues.

It was only later, and recently, that the Congress found the prospect of the motion pregnant with national possibility, scurrying to the TDP to include issues of national importance such as communalism, mob lynching, and Hindutva.

"This will certainly show," Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "that the Opposition is united against the government." Jayadev Galla, in his poetic allusion to Bharat Ane Nenu to phrase the BJP government’s neglect of Andhra Pradesh by its "empty promises and unfulfilled commitments" as a war "not against the BJP and TDP, but against the majority and morality, against the Modi regime and Andhra Pradesh" illustrated the vociferous tensions between the national and the regional that the motion appears to encompass. Galla thanked other parties, including national ones, for their support and promptly footnoted that the issues of Andhra Pradesh are as emotional as national, but the writing on the wall is clear.

As the Shiv Sena and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) theatrically abstain and the AIADMK follows suit in alleging that its regional grievance remains unheard, the no-confidence motion, despite the Congress' rickety attempts to resuscitate it as a national inscription whose author it must necessarily be, hangs in a centrifugal balance as precarious as the party's struggle to haft itself onto the regional. How it negotiates regional force will decide its political life — the no-confidence motion for the Congress, whether or not Rahul Gandhi's professed earthquake comes, is a matter not of nuisance but of self-preservation.

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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2018 13:50 PM

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