Is the Modi government scared of a debate on an Opposition-sponsored non-confidence motion?

On the face of it, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre has nothing to worry about. It is comfortably placed in the Lok Sabha to survive a no-confidence motion. Moreover, an Opposition attack provides the ruling alliance with an opportunity to close ranks and emerge stronger by winning the trust vote.

Yet, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has not taken up the notices of no-confidence moved by Opposition parties over the past few days on the plea that the House is not in order, indicating that the Modi government does not want to get bogged down in a debate that a no-confidence motion entails.

No-confidence motion

In a replay of what has been witnessed in Parliament for the past fortnight, the Lok Sabha was again adjourned on Tuesday amid unruly scenes. In fact, no business has been transacted in the second half of the Budget Session, which started on March 5, as Opposition parties have been protesting, with many raising demands specific to their states.

A belligerent Congress had initially held up proceedings to press for a debate on the Nirav Modi-Punjab National Bank scam. However, this issue soon fell by the wayside as the Telugu Desam Party, which rules Andhra Pradesh, demanded special category status for the state, with its rival, the YSR Congress, joining the chorus.

It was initially believed that the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress were actually helping the Modi government by diverting attention from the Nirav Modi issue. However, the situation changed when the Telugu Desam Party walked out of the National Democratic Alliance on March 16 and followed it up by moving a no-confidence motion against the Modi government.

With the political scene heating up with a year to go before the next general election, other Opposition parties, including the Left parties and the Congress, also decided to move no-confidence motions.

The result is that the Modi government, which was trying to avoid a discussion on the Nirav Modi case, now faces the prospect of being taken to task for its various deficiencies. Unlike the discussion on the Nirav Modi case, which would have focused on the scam, a debate on a no-confidence motion is not confined to any one subject. It gives ample opportunity to the speakers to attack the government on a wide-range of issues.

Bad time for criticism

From all accounts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not keen on sitting through a debate where his government is likely to be hauled over the coals. While an attack by the Opposition parties will be on expected lines, the Bharatiya Janata Party has reasons to worry about its allies, who may not vote against the government, but are likely to seize this opportunity to air their grievances. That would prove embarrassing for Modi, who is used to being in control. With the general elections coming up, the BJP’s allies can be expected to strike a hard bargain for their support. A no-confidence motion also means a busy time for the government’s parliamentary managers, who have to placate and mollify the BJP’s allies and smaller parties to ensure that it registers a convincing victory.

The BJP has already lost an ally in the Telugu Desam Party. Its Maharashtra ally, the Shiv Sena, is constantly at war with it, and has even threatened to contest the next election on its own. The Shiromani Akali Dal has also been sulking. A delegation from the Punjab party recently met BJP president Amit Shah to draw attention to the agrarian crisis and press for the payment of the minimum support price to farmers for their crops as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission report. The Akali Dal is also upset that the Goods and Services Tax is being charged from the langar (community kitchen) that serves free meals at gurdwaras, a point that was also flagged at the meeting with Shah. “If the government does not give the farmers a fair MSP [Minimum Support Price], it will be very difficult for our party to justify its alliance with the BJP in the next election,” said a senior Akal Dal MP.

Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party is said to be upset following the Supreme Court’s recent order diluting the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Not only did the party write to the prime minister asking the government to file a review petition against the order, it has gone ahead and filed such a petition without waiting for the Union government to make the first move in this direction. Since the Bihar-based party draws its support primarily from Dalits, it cannot afford to remain silent on this matter as it could have serious repercussions for it in the next elections.

The no-confidence motions have also come at a time when the Modi government appears to be vulnerable. The farmers’ stir is showing no signs of abating, the government’s handling of the economy has not inspired confidence and the employment scenario is dismal. The BJP’s defeat in the recent bye-polls in Gorakhpur and Pulphur have also put the saffron party on the defensive.

With Assembly elections in Karnataka coming up in May, the Modi government would not like to be perceived to be under siege at this critical juncture. The party, especially Modi, has to necessarily project an image of strength and confidence.