Indian PM Narendra Modi defeats no-confidence motion and gets surprise hug

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from right), accompanied by senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, addresses media representatives after arriving for the monsoon session of Parliament in New Delhi, on July 18, 2018.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (second from right), accompanied by senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, addresses media representatives after arriving for the monsoon session of Parliament in New Delhi, on July 18, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday (July 20) easily defeated a no-confidence motion in Parliament where the highlight of an intense debate was a hug between political rivals.

Mr Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a majority in Parliament, was able to defeat the opposition-led motion by a vote of 325 to 126 in the lower house.

During a marathon 12 hours of debate ahead of the vote, opposition Congress president Rahul Gandhi created a stir when he walked over to the treasury benches to hug Mr Modi after a speech where he criticised the Prime Minister on a range of issues, including women's safety.

"For the first time in history, India is unable to safeguard its women. Never ever has India enjoyed such a reputation in history before. There are atrocities against women, minorities, Dalits.

"People are being beaten, PM Modi doesn't say a word. Are Dalits, minorities and women not Indians? Don't they belong to India?" Mr Gandhi was referring to a string of mob lynching of Dalits, once called untouchables, and Muslims by Hindu-nationalist vigilante groups.

Ties between the opposition and the BJP have been acrimonious and at their worst in recent years with the BJP often taunting Mr Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were prime ministers, about his allegedly poor leadership abilities.

"I will take this hatred out of you and turn it into love. You can abuse me, you can call me pappu (loser), but I don't have a speck of hatred against you," Mr Gandhi said before hugging a startled Mr Modi.

 

The no-confidence motion came as political parties in India ramped up preparations for a general election to be held by May next year. Mr Modi, who remains popular, is seeking another five-year term. Opposition parties are trying to band together to take on the BJP and Mr Modi who, along with BJP president Amit Shah, has helmed a series of state election wins in the past four years.

Opposition leaders on Friday criticised him even as BJP leaders accused the opposition of political opportunism, their only common agenda being to oppose the Modi government.

"There is no vacancy for the post of PM in 2019. Don't waste your efforts," said Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, leader of the Lok Janshakti Party, a BJP ally.

Yet there were some hiccups for both sides. Another BJP ally, Shiv Sena, which has criticised the government on many occasions, decided to abstain from the vote. As for  the opposition, regional party Biju Janata Dal also said it would abstain from the vote.  

Analysts said the rhetoric on both sides showed that parties were getting into election mode and trying to reach out to the public.

"I think both sides have realised the debate (is) critical in terms of reaching out and sending a message to the public. Both have tried to put their best foot forward," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University.

"I think the Congress president made a very fiery speech. I don't think we have seen him as aggressive as today. He made the unusual gesture of going up to the Prime Minister, which caught him and the government totally unawares. We thought theatrics was a privilege of the BJP, but Congress has scored a point," he added.

Ahead of the debate, Mr Modi tweeted it was an important day in India's parliamentary democracy.

"I am sure my fellow MP colleagues will rise to the occasion and ensure a constructive, comprehensive & disruption free debate... India will be watching us closely."