India's opposition set to corner Modi's government

While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) will have the majority needed to defeat the no-confidence motion, the strength of the votes, analysts said, would be a pointer to unity among the opposition parties.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) will have the majority needed to defeat the no-confidence motion, the strength of the votes, analysts said, would be a pointer to unity among the opposition parties. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

No-confidence motion aimed at raising important issues in House

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will face a challenge in the Lower House of Parliament today (July 20) from opposition parties which have moved a no-confidence motion against his government ahead of next year's general elections.

The outcome is not in doubt: Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allied parties have 313 members in the 543-seat Parliament, giving him the majority needed to defeat the no-confidence motion. Still, the opposition is pressing on to corner the government on several issues.

The strength of the votes, analysts said, would be a pointer to unity among the opposition parties.

Both the government and the opposition see the parliamentary motion - which is meant to overthrow the government but seldom succeeds - as an opportunity to put the other side on the spot.

Main opposition Congress party said in a tweet on Wednesday: "We are glad that the Speaker has accepted the opposition's no confidence motion. This gives us the opportunity to hold the Govt accountable and force them to break their silence on key issues."

The government was expected to use the debate to portray the Congress and other opposition parties as a power-hungry alliance, with no common cause except to oust the ruling party. Analysts predicted a fiery speech from Mr Modi.

Said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University: "This is more about the process than the result. It is going to be interesting to see who does it better. Given the debating skills of the prime minister and his ministers, the government may have thought this is an opportunity to put the opposition in a bind. This will be telecast live on television. This is an important way for the opposition to reach out to the public."

Likewise, the opposition clearly has their sights on the general elections which must be held by May next year.

Said Dr Aftab Alam, associate professor of political science of Aligarh Muslim University: "The no-confidence motion is not often about throwing out government. It is raised for the purpose of raising important issues that opposition parties feel are important. This would be an opportunity to corner the government on issues like mob lynchings and inflation. Elections are coming close, opposition parties are trying to take advantage."

Preparations for the general elections picked up pace within the Congress party this week.

 
 
 

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday reconstituted his party's highest decision-making body. He elevated a younger generation of leaders, like Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and Mr Gaurav Gogoi from the north-eastern state of Assam, while dropping some veterans.

During the discussions today, Mr Gandhi is expected to raise issues like mob attacks on Muslims and so-called lower-caste Dalits by alleged Hindu nationalists, the high incidence of sexual violence, the distress faced by farmers and the government's poor record in jobs creation. How the parties vote will demonstrate the extent to which Mr Gandhi's efforts to consolidate the opposition have succeeded. "The pattern of voting will point to opposition unity," said Dr Shastri.

Mr Modi, who came to power on the back of a stunning majority in 2014, has gone on to win a string of state elections. Yet, over the past couple of months, he has been facing challenges on different fronts.

In March, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a regional party, quit the ruling alliance saying Mr Modi had not fulfilled his promises.

And in May, the BJP failed to form the government in Karnataka state where Congress with smaller numbers managed to tie up with a regional ally to form the government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'Opposition set to corner Modi's govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe