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No-confidence motion: Toppling Modi govt not the aim, Opposition wants to trap fence-sitters and test NDA's unity

Editor's note: This article was originally published on 18 July. It is being republished in light of the no-confidence motion that is set to take place in Parliament today.

The Monsoon Session of Parliament has started. And with it, the 'sacred games' that once again highlight the institutional crisis that plague the Parliamentary procedure in India. Much has been written about the dangers that it may pose to India's democracy but such discussions are futile because the current system, in absence of legislative reforms, incentivises disruptions.

Political parties, especially the Opposition, feel that they have more to benefit from a Parliamentary deadlock. There are several reasons behind this apparent inversion of the legislative process.

One, the Opposition fears that smooth functioning of the House may enable the government to carry out its legislative agenda in passing key bills such as the Fugitive Economic Offenders bill (pending in both Houses) aimed at preventing the likes of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi from scooting away, or the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill (pending in the Upper House) to make triple talaq an illegal practice, or the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018, that will give home buyers the power to start insolvency proceedings against dubious builders.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Public discourse suggests that these legislations enjoy popular sanction. Therefore, the second reason behind the Opposition's disruptive behaviour lies in an apprehension that passing of these key bills will give the government a chance to tout its achievements and subsequently result in rivals ceding further political space to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Third, the onus of ensuring that both Houses of Parliament function smoothly and conduct legislative business lies with the government. The Opposition sees this as a blank cheque to create a further ruckus and hold the House frequently to ransom without incurring any major political damage.

The cynicism that drives these calculations distorts the democratic apparatus and inflicts long-term damage to public institutions. But, institutional integrity is the last thing on the minds of politicians who are more interested in using disruption as a tool for political opportunism.

Sitting on the treasury benches, the BJP has no such luxury. With only a few months left for the 2019 General Elections, it suits the ruling party's agenda to make both the Houses work. The prime minister, for instance, met leaders of the Opposition in an all-party meeting on Tuesday and sought their cooperation. He told the media on Wednesday that the government is ready for debate on any issue and urged political parties to make optimum use of the time.

News agency PTI reports that the prime minister, in a symbolic outreach at the beginning of the session, took a round of the front rows of ruling and Opposition benches, greeted members with folded hands and exchanged a few words with Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav. Modi's overtures and calls for cooperation were answered by the Congress-led Opposition with a no-confidence motion.

The Opposition gambit has little chance of succeeding because the BJP alone (273) has adequate numbers and some more with its allies (above 310) than the halfway mark of 268. The Modi government should have no trouble in defeating the motion when it is taken up on Friday. The Opposition tactic, however, has less to do with the fanciful notion of toppling NDA and more to do with an attempt to cement Opposition unity.

The Congress-JD(S) experiment in Karnataka has generated bad PR and has ironically made the prospect of a BJP government appear more appealing. Some regional parties are more comfortable with the idea of a non-Congress, non-BJP 'third front' than a Congress-led united front. These various reasons make the prospect of a united Opposition taking on the BJP in 2019 appear mythical, and this is where the no-trust motion can form a useful tool in de-cluttering the canvas.

More importantly, the motion is a crafty move to ascertain the cracks within NDA and simultaneously adjudge the sanctity of Opposition unity index. The Congress, for instance, hopes to figure out, through the numbers by which the motion is defeated, how many allies of the BJP voted against it or abstained.

This may provide Congress with enough data to approach NDA constituents and draw up a pre-poll blueprint. Equally, the motion may also compel fence-sitters such as the AIADMK, TRS or BJD to take a side and make a commitment — a position that some of these regional outfits are loathe to take.

Finally, the no-confidence motion has symbolic value for the Opposition in reinforcing their narrative that the people have "lost confidence" in Modi. It may not be close to the truth but two days of incessant discussions by talking heads on TV, hopes the Opposition, will be enough to create some "hawa" (ambience) ahead of 2019.

The task of carrying the can for this exercise in futility lies with the public. Consequently, we are left with a situation where billions of public money is wasted — which is bad enough — but an even greater damage is dealt to India's political system which is exposed as weak, ineffective and chaotic.

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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2018 08:02 AM

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