Inside politics

Why Narendra Modi did not want a no-confidence motion in March (but is okay with it now)

The numbers were never a problem, so what has changed since March?

When the opposition parties, led by the Telugu Desam Party, tabled a no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government in the budget session, it was not taken up by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on the plea that there was disorder in the House.

It was widely believed that the government did not want a debate on a no-confidence motion as it did not wish to face a barrage of criticism on its failures from the combined opposition although it had the numerical strength to defeat the motion.

It was also said that the Bharatiya Janata Party was avoiding this discussion as the crucial Karnataka assembly polls were round the corner and the party did not want to be seen to be on the defensive before it set out for the election campaign. Most importantly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi by temperament does not like being pressured by anyone, especially the opposition.

But a different story played out with the monsoon session, which gets underway today. The Lok Sabha Speaker readily accepted the opposition’s no-confidence motion and fixed the debate for Friday, an indication that the government was willing to accept the opposition challenge.

What has changed?

So what has changed since the budget session in March that the BJP has readily agreed to a debate on a no-confidence motion? For the record, Union minister for Parliamentary affairs Ananth Kumar said they wanted to nail the opposition’s campaign that the government was running away from a debate. “We want to stop the lies of the opposition and set the record straight,” he said. “We are ready to answer and face all questions being asked.”

BJP ministers, who did not wish to be quoted, cited several reasons for this change in their stance. The Telugu Desam Party, which had parted ways with the BJP just then, was the prime mover of the no-confidence motion in March while other opposition parties were ambivalent on this issue, they pointed out.

This time, the Congress has joined the battle as a lead player and is more proactive in taking on the government. This has spurred the BJP leadership to go ahead with the debate as the saffron party views the Congress as its chief political adversary and would rather battle the main opposition party than the others. The BJP is confident that the prime minister’s oratorical skills will carry the day and also succeed in showing the Congress in poor light.

In March, the government also wanted to avoid questions on the Nirav Modi bank fraud case as it was clearly on the back foot on this issue. Now that four months have elapsed, the case has, by and large, faded from public memory providing some relief to the government.

Once it wins the no-confidence motion (a foregone conclusion given the superior numerical strength of the BJP and its allies in the Lok Sabha), the BJP plans to shift the focus to issues from which it can draw political mileage. To begin with, the saffron party will seek to turn the tables on the Congress on issues such as so-called minority appeasement, Kashmir and triple talaq.

Triple talaq

The BJP game plan is to get this debate out of the way at the beginning of the session so that it can corner the opposition, especially the Congress, on the triple talaq Bill currently awaiting passage in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP believes its job will be made easy as the opposition would have run out of issues after the debate on the no-confidence motion which would cover a gamut of subjects, ranging from the state of the economy, farmers’ woes, the increasing incidence of lynching to the shrinking job market and the state of higher education.

The triple talaq Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha but could not be pushed through in the Upper House where the opposition insisted that a crucial legislation like this should first be scrutinized by a Parliamentary committee. The Congress’s qualified support to the Bill has given a handle to the BJP to accuse the opposition party of pandering to the Muslim clergy and being insensitive to the plight of Muslim women.

Modi has already set the stage for a possible showdown between the Congress and the BJP when he declared at a recent public rally,: “Congress president has said that Congress is a party of Muslims, I am not surprised by this. All I want to ask is, is their party only for Muslim men or for women too?”

More importantly, the debate will provide a platform to Modi to send out a message to the public at large about his government’s achievements with an eye on the upcoming assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Since the BJP chief ministers are facing anti-incumbency in these states, the prime minister is expected to unveil an “emotional appeal” to deflect attention from the failures of the governments and establish a connection with the electorate. “I’m sure he’ll pull some rabbit out of his hat. Since these three states do not have a large Muslim population, the usual policy of highlighting the Hindu-Muslim divide may not work,” remarked a senior BJP leader. “ So let us see what card he will play.”

Having been under attack for the worsening situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the debate will also provide an opportunity for the prime minister to give details of the situation in the border state. Modi can be expected to explain the benefits of his government’s muscular policy in the state which had enabled the armed forces to crack down on Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Here, too, the effort will be to put the opposition, particularly, the Congress on the mat for being “soft on terror”, not cooperating with the government on matters of national security and for being responsible for the current mess in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.