No confidence, no trust: A modern tale of two alliances | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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No confidence, no trust: A modern tale of two alliances

Aug 03, 2023 06:25 PM IST

The NDA has a comfortable majority in Parliament, and the outcome of the no-confidence motion is a forgone conclusion. The debates will set the tone for 2024

The Lok Sabha is expected to debate Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi’s no-confidence motion against prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi's government between August 8 and 10 with the PM expected to reply on the last date.

The opposition parties will try to corner the government on the ongoing violence in Manipur, the train tragedy in Odisha and the flood situation across the country. (PTI) PREMIUM
The opposition parties will try to corner the government on the ongoing violence in Manipur, the train tragedy in Odisha and the flood situation across the country. (PTI)

The motion itself has led to much discussion: Whether bills should be passed by the Houses in the interim, what happens during the discussion, and the point of this motion given that we know how the votes stack up. Let’s tackle this one by one.

First, the Opposition has raised a question over the government’s decision to debate and pass bills in the Lok Sabha during the pendency of a no-confidence motion. Congress MP Manish Tewari recently said it was "completely in violation of morality, propriety and parliamentary conventions". Revolutionary Socialist Party’s NK Premachandran raised a similar objection. The government has dismissed the criticism.

Speaker Om Birla stated that the rules of the House placed no bar on discussing essential matters while a no-confidence motion is pending. In his view, it is the Constitutional duty of the House to legislate.

“The time available to the House between leave being granted by the House and moving of the motion of no confidence can be gainfully utilised by the House in debates and discussion. The House would agree that it is our constitutional duty to legislate and raise issues of public importance,” Birla said.

Birla added there was a precedent, too.

The parliamentary affairs ministry has made exhaustive data available on no-confidence and confidence motions. History shows that Lok Sabha usually discusses no-confidence motions within a day or two of the House admitting them.

The proceedings of Lok Sabha also show that when there is a gap between the admission of the motion and the beginning of the debate, the House proceeds with its regular business.

Here’s an example: In 1992, there was a gap of six days between Lok Sabha admitting and debating Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh's no-confidence motion against PM PV Narasimha Rao's government. The House admitted it on July 8, the first day of the monsoon session, and immediately the Speaker decided the date for discussion as July 15 and 16.

During this time, Lok Sabha MPs discussed the Ayodhya issue and the stock market scam, the government introduced a few bills, and the House passed a bill giving the President the powers of the Jammu and Kashmir state legislature.

The last no-confidence motion was moved by Telugu Desam MP Kesineni Srinivas in 2018. Before that motion was debated, the House discussed and passed an amendment to the Right to Education Act and a new law for prosecuting fugitive economic offenders.

Two, in order to understand what is expected during the debates in a no-confidence motion, let us first turn to the rules of procedure and the convention of the Lok Sabha.

For a start, the Constitution specifies that a government can only stay in power if it has a majority in Lok Sabha. Since independence, in all no-confidence motions that the Lok Sabha has voted on, the government has demonstrated that it has the confidence of the House by having a majority of MPs voting to defeat the motion. When PMs realise they don't have a majority in Lok Sabha, they resign before voting like PM Charan Singh did in 1979.

The rule book requires the Speaker to allot a day for discussion within 10 days (in this case, on or before August 8) from the day the no-confidence motion is admitted. The convention of the House is that the Speaker chooses this date in consultation with different political parties.

The Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha, which the Speaker chairs, takes a call on the length of discussion. It decides the total time of the debate and whether it will occur over one day or many. The Parliament has a straightforward mechanism to divide the time among different political parties: It apportions it based on their strength in the House. Therefore, in any debate, larger parties get more time than smaller ones. The discussion on the no-confidence motion invariably exceeds the time budgeted for it.

For example, in 2018, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan told the House that the debate on the motion that started at 11 am would have to end by 6 pm. Congress MP Shri Mallikarjun Kharge urged the Speaker to give his party and other opposition parties, like the Trinamool Congress (TMC), more time than the allocated 38 minutes. Speakers usually accommodate such requests, as did Mahajan, and the 2018 discussion went on till 11 pm.

"That this House expresses its want of confidence in the Council of Ministers," Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi will say, following which the Speaker will put the question before the House, and the debate will begin.

Usually, the MP who has moved the motion initiates the discussion. But the MP may request that the Speaker allow another colleague to speak on his behalf – in 2018, MP Jayadev Galla of TDP gave the opening speech on behalf of his colleague.

The speaking baton passes between the MPs of the different political parties.

Finally, the debate itself will have a few rounds.

The first happens between the Opposition and the ruling party. So, after Gogoi speaks, an MP from the BJP will respond to his charges. MPs from other political parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), TMC, and Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) will participate in the debate. Each party decides which of their MPs represents the party's viewpoint. A party can also divide its allocated time among its MPs and give their names to the Speaker in advance.

It is significant to remember that Rajya Sabha MPs, who are ministers, reply to questions, and participate in discussions on bills and other matters related to their ministry in Lok Sabha. However, they cannot vote in the Lok Sabha. So, during the no-confidence debate, there will be occasions when ministers, who are not Lok Sabha MPs, will participate.

For example, in the last no-confidence motion, then-defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman intervened to clarify some points Congress MP Rahul Gandhi raised.

After MPs from different parties have made their points, the PM replies to the no-confidence motion.

Once the PM speaks, Gogoi, the motion's mover, will get an opportunity to respond to the different issues that MPs raised during the course of the debate. After he concludes, the Lok Sabha will vote on the no-confidence motion. An electronic voting machine is often used for this.

In the Lok Sabha chamber, MPs sit next to each other. In front of each seat, there are a set of buttons that allow MPs to register their vote. To ensure that MPs don't press the voting button of their neighbouring MP, they have to use both hands while voting. The machine then displays the voting result on an electronic board on the two sides of the Speaker's chair.

Political parties will issue whips to their MPs, directing them to vote to support or oppose the government. Parties can also choose to walk out and not participate in the debate as the Biju Janata Dal did during the 2018 motion.

Given that the government has a comfortable majority, and the outcome of the no-confidence motion is a forgone conclusion, what is the point of this motion?

The opposition parties will try to corner the government on the ongoing violence in Manipur, the train tragedy in Odisha and the flood situation across the country. Investigating agencies targeting political personalities and the role of Governors in opposition-ruled states may also be raised in the debate. The state of the country's economy, rising prices and cases of religious intolerance – such as the ongoing violence in Nuh and Gurugram are also expected to come up.

The debates between the parties are expected to be sharp and will certainly set the tone and tenor for next year's general elections. It will also be a welcome change in the proceedings of Lok Sabha, which has been non-functional for this and the past few sessions.

Chakshu Roy is the head of legislative and civic engagement, PRS Legislative Research.

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