No-confidence motion: A trustworthy instrument to make govts accountable

The no-confidence motion will be the first since the BJP-led NDA government came to power four years ago. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s decision to accept the motion moved by former BJP ally TDP and others came on the first day of the Monsoon session.

analysis Updated: Jul 19, 2018 23:59 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Government accountability,Shiv Sena,no confidence motion
The opposition sponsored no-confidence motion against the Modi government will be taken up in the Parliament on Friday.(PTI Photo)

No-trust motions in legislatures aren’t always about dislodging governments. They’re a useful tool to wake up and shake up regimes that have comfortable majorities in the House.

Why such motions, which get precedence over all other business before the House, are moved closer to elections is a no-brainer. They’re a potent parliamentary instrument to make regimes accountable.

Debates on them are omnibus, enabling members to question the treasury benches on a spectrum of issues. For the government, the occasion is an opportunity to showcase its achievements.

On Friday, fault lines on either side of the political divide will be discernible in the debate, if not in the vote count. For instance, the Janata Dal (United), even while opposing the motion, will side with the Telugu Desam Party’s demand for special status for Andhra. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ally itself is seeking similar affirmative action for Bihar.

On triple talaq, there’d be differences on the means to the shared objective of a law disbanding the practice held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The generally pro-NDA Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) stand against the criminality adduced to the act is closer to that of the Opposition’s.

In its ripostes to the Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could instigate a Communist Party of India (Marxist)-Congress-Trinamool turf war in West Bengal. In that backdrop and the inevitability of the NDA winning the count, Sonia Gandhi’s off-the-cuff “who says we don’t have the numbers” remark has limited value.

Statistically, the point of interest is whether the NDA will log as many votes as it aggregated in 2014: 336 including 282 of the BJP? If not, then how many less? If yes, then how many more?

The last such motion in the Lok Sabha was moved in the run-up to the 2004 elections. Atal Bihari Vajpayee then was third time lucky. He survived the vote after his 1996 fall and the defeat by one vote in 1998 -- when J Jayalalithaa joined the Congress to bring down his regime.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK) withdrawal of support was a blessing in disguise for Vajpayee, what with the Congress failing to provide an alternative regime. That happened a month ahead of the Kargil War, which the BJP used to script an emotive, nationalistic narrative.

Unable to form a government after bringing one down, the Congress was at a loss for words. It watched haplessly as the NDA turned into a ‘war trophy’ a colossal security failure that had allowed Pakistan to intrude deep into Indian territory.

The foundations of the BJP-led power edifice that emerged from the post-Kargil 1999 polls were actually laid in 1996, when Vajpayee quit after a 13-day stint without taking a confidence vote.

It was a classic study of the motion’s utility if applied in the reverse -- as a trust vote. Rather than asking for a division at the end of a day-long debate telecast live, Vajpayee drove to the Rashtrapati Bhawan to submit his resignation.

One can, in retrospect, say the motion wasn’t meant to prove a majority. The speakers the BJP fielded in the debate pitched not for votes but for popular sympathy for a first-time prime minister, forced out for want of numbers.

The goodwill was palpable that day for Vajpayee. I remember a parking-lot attendant at Transport Bhawan across Parliament House, bemoaning the BJP veteran’s ouster: “Ye Atalji ke saath theek nahin hua… (What happened to Vajpayee wasn’t right).”

That goodwill grew during the Congress-backed United Front regime, which lasted for two years under two prime ministers. It was a repeat of sorts of people contrasting the faction-ridden Janata Party with the Congress after defeating Indira Gandhi in 1977.

First Published: Jul 19, 2018 23:59 IST