POLITICS
21/07/2018 12:00 PM IST | Updated 21/07/2018 12:00 PM IST

No Confidence Vote Offers Some Confidence to Both Modi and Rahul

NDA wins easily, but the opposition underscores its attack on under-performing government.

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NEW DELHI — The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) framed Friday's no-confidence motion in Parliament as a duel between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and that was how the long debate proceeded.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that if there was to be another no-confidence vote against him, it would be in 2024, underscoring his confidence that his return in 2019 was a given.

Rahul Gandhi, for his part, continued his public quest to craft a credible political persona.

A senior Congress MP described Rahul's act as an "amalgam of 'Munna Bhai MBBS' and 'Ek Tha Tiger'", alluding to two different Bollywood hits: the former features a bumbling but loveable protagonist who spreads love and smiles, while the latter stars a daredevil undercover agent.

"It was a message to our workers and to our present and prospective allies," said a source close to Gandhi. "Rahul must come across as a political pugilist, ready to confront Modi in the boxing ring, take blows and give them as good as he gets, if not better."

When the motion was finally put to vote, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the confidence vote with 325 votes, 34 votes in excess of the 291 seats it controls with its allies.

The Biju Janta Dal and Telangana Rashtriya Samithi walked out, while the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam voted in favour of the government, suggesting that a possible opposition alliance for the 2019 elections is yet to convince influential regional parties to sign on.

Sources in the AIADMK told HuffPost that while they voted with the government on this instance, they would not go with the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The numerical victory will arm the government to push the legislations of its choice in the remaining three weeks of the monsoon session, particularly the triple "talaq" bill, or at least force a debate in Parliament, the press and social media.

The "anti-Muslim" BJP can project itself as a saviour of Muslim women, some of who have been victims of instant "talaq", or divorce, without maintenance.

A former Congress minister said his party had no choice but to back the bill if it was linked to gender parity.

"The BJP's real motivation," he said, "is to communalise the issue and polarise the polity."

A BJP minister claimed "We want to pull Muslim women out of the social morass they have been trapped in for decades.

"If some of them want to vote us after this, what's wrong?"

Along Expected Lines

Modi and Rahul's speeches suggest the 2019 campaign is likely to proceed along expected lines: Modi framed the debate as one between a "namdar" (a celebrity bearing a famous surname, like Gandhi) and a "kamdar" (a workman).

"I am a poor man's son born in a backward caste, a 'kamdar'," Modi said, in his reply to Rahul's claim that Modi couldn't look him in the eye. "History is witness to the fate of what happened with those who looked your family in the eye, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Charan Singh, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and even Pranab Mukherjee....they were all humiliated."

He also said the Nehru-Gandhis never brooked rivals or propped up coalition governments for long. The key word was here was the Congress's purported "ahankar", or arrogance.

Rahul said Modi and his chief confidant and BJP president Amit Shah's relentless quest for power was driven by fear.

"We are okay to be out of power for reasons everybody knows," Gandhi said. "The PM and the BJP president can't afford to lose power. The moment they lose power, other processes move in. They are afraid."

This fear, he said, generates anger and this anger was transmitted throughout India.

"I want to tell you that you are the victim of a fantastic 21st century political weapon called 'jumla' strike," he said, riffing off two pet BJP phrases.

While the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the All India Anna DMK indicated that they would vote with the BJP in the no-confidence vote, sources in the two parties affirmed that they would not go with the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress president punctured Modi's pre-2014 boast of job generation and "safeguarding" the national wealth in the role of a "chowkidar" (security guard) and not a "bhagidar" (stakeholder).

He pointed to the disparity in the prices of the Rafale aircrafts that the Congress-helmed United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had negotiated with France at Rs 520 crore per aircraft and the Rs 1660 crore aircraft that the NDA dispensation signed up for.

"I can't imagine how truth can be distorted like this to deceive the country," Modi replied. "Two nations had to simultaneously clarify and rebuff the charges."

Regional Allies

Congress and BJP sources were in agreement that while neither Rahul nor Modi's performance were likely to reconfigure the 2019 contest, the ruling party has reasons other than Rahul to mull over.

The no-confidence motion was moved by Andhra Pradesh's Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the BJP's ally till a month ago, that went for the kill today over the denial of a special category status to the state by the Modi government despite a pre-poll avowal.

The loss of an ally was exacerbated by the boycott of the proceedings by the BJP's oldest partner, the Shiv Sena.

Sena MP Chandrakan Khaire, who is its floor leader in the Lok Sabha, was sacked by the party president Uddhav Thackeray for unilaterally issuing a whip to the MPs to vote against the motion.

"We took a decision this morning in protest over issues like the GST, price rise and a refinery that's coming up in the environmentally sensitive Konkan region. Above all, people's sentiments have turned against the BJP," said a Thackeray aide.

While the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the All India Anna DMK indicated that they would vote with the BJP in the no-confidence vote, sources in the two parties affirmed that they would not go with the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls.

Modi's exertions to reach out to the people of Andhra and answer the TDP's criticisms came to a nought.

Shortly after he spoke, a TDP MP K Srinivas rose to reply.

"The PM has wonderful oratorical skills. It was like watching a blockbuster movie," Srinivas said, "This is how he was before 2014, lots of false promises but no delivery."

Modi won the vote but looked on grimly at the end of a long day.

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