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Some jitters about the trust vote

The political crisis created by the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement may persist beyond July 22 even if the government is able to secure its vote of confidence, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2008 19:10 IST
Between Us | Pankaj Vohra

In case the motion of the government under Rule 184 gets carried through, it does not give immunity to the government for another six months from the Opposition, which is free to move a motion of no-confidence under Rule 198 any time — even on the same day itself.

The political crisis created by the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement may persist beyond July 22 even if the government is able to secure its vote of confidence. The evidence of the inappropriate manner in which the voting issue has been handled has exposed several inadequacies in the Congress think tank, which continues to put the continuation of the government in serious jeopardy.

On paper, the Congress and the UPA may appear to have the numbers on their side at the moment, but what is in serious doubt is the ability of the Congress managers to ensure that the government gets the majority vote when it seeks the trust of the Lok Sabha. All these years, political managers who have been running the show have not shown any evidence of their grasp over the rules and procedures of Parliament and have spent more time in manipulations aimed at keeping their detractors within the Congress at bay.

Their first litmus test could be as early as July 22 when the trust motion is likely to be put to vote. But the securing of the trust vote does not put the government out of danger. The Opposition can immediately move a vote of no-confidence. And if it picks up the issue of rising prices and inflation, the government may be in deep trouble.

The very fact that the government has decided to follow an irregular precedent of seeking the trust vote is proof enough of how the political managers have not been able to see an ambush that may be lying ahead. As per the conduct of rules of business of the Lok Sabha, there is no provision for a trust vote. G.V.G. Krishnamurty, one of the foremost experts on parliamentary procedures and constitutional matters, has pointed out that as per the rules of business, only a no-confidence motion can be moved under Rule 198 to dislodge a government. There is no provision of a confidence motion under the current rules, which could have been amended to include such a provision. But they were not.

Now the situation is such that the government citing past precedents dating back from the time of Charan Singh and later V.P. Singh and some others has decided to go in for a confidence motion under Rule 184 of the Lok Sabha. Under this rule, any motion can be moved and thus a confidence motion may be legal, but, as Krishnamurty opines, it is highly irregular.

The logical corollary of this is that in case the motion of the government under Rule 184 gets carried through, it does not give immunity to the government for another six months from the Opposition, which is free to move a motion of no-confidence under Rule 198 any time — even on the same day itself. Therefore, if the government survives on the nuclear deal on July 22, the Opposition could easily trip it on some other issue like rising prices and inflation.

Even the Constitution does not have any mention of a confidence or no-confidence motion. The mention of no-confidence motion is there only in the conduct of business rules of the Lok Sabha. What the Congress and government managers have failed to comprehend are the circumstances under which the confidence motion was moved for the first time under Rule 184 in 1979. President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy had appointed Charan Singh as the Prime Minister after the fall of the Morarji Desai government, preferring him to Jagjiwan Ram. Charan Singh never faced the House and resigned shortly afterwards.

In 1990, when the V.P. Singh government became a minority after the BJP withdrew support, he moved a confidence motion under the same rule. However, a no-confidence motion under Rule 198 was also moved but the Speaker, perhaps to oblige V.P. Singh, took up the first motion raising many eyebrows. Later P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and H.D. Deve Gowda also used the same irregular method.

In other words, the onus of proving that a government is in a minority is on the Opposition and those who move a motion of no-confidence. By withdrawing support from the government outside the House, the Left parties have proved nothing. It is on the floor of the House that the government’s strength can be challenged. The current presumption in some quarters is that some members of the Samajwadi Party may not vote as per the party line. This is equally applicable to the Left parties. So the floor test is the final test, but only after a motion of no-confidence.

As far as the Left goes, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have been very gracious in praising their role in the running of this government. They, unlike some others in the Congress, have not said anything that may burn bridges with the Left. Similarly, veteran CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu is more pragmatic and has asked the Left not to bring down the government as it has already expressed its opposition to the deal. And voting along with the BJP may send the wrong signals.

Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s political adviser M.L. Fotedar, too, has reiterated that leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet understand that their biggest enemy are forces represented by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP — and not each other. It is this spirit that should be understood by the Left leadership and Congress office bearers who have been speaking against each other publicly and, therefore, burning all bridges.

And even as politicking among friends-turned-foes appears to be at its peak, the outcome of the July 22 confidence vote is eagerly awaited. Between us.