The Big Story: Question time
Given the Bharatiya Janata Party’s numerical strength in the Lok Sabha, few expect the government to lose the no-confidence motion scheduled for Friday. Indeed, one of the government’s stated reasons for accepting a no-confidence motion is that it wants to “stop the lies of the opposition” that it does not face questions. But this motion is about more than the government winning a battle of perceptions. It is a chance for the Opposition to ask vital questions about the health of our democracy. It is a chance to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi question his own catchphrases, from “sab ka saath sab ka vikas” to “acche din”.
Here are some of the questions the Opposition should be asking:
- Could the government give a true picture of the economy? In spite of the BJP’s promises of development, there are signs of grave agrarian distress and rural wage growth is negative, manufacturing growth and investments in new projects are falling, the job market looks bleak and even daily wage jobs are increasingly scarce on the ground. Meanwhile, there is still no clarity on how badly demonetisation hit the economy, though its lingering effects are still being felt.
- There has been an alarming rise in the number of mob lynchings in the last three years, usually hate crimes committed by the majority against the minority community, and most of these cases have gone nowhere. How serious is the government about tackling these crimes of hate? What does it say when its own ministers are seen garlanding men accused of lynching?
- In cases where lynchings have been fuelled by rumours of child-lifting, is there a plan of action besides asking WhatsApp to regulate the spread of fake news?
- How does the BJP justify its repeated use of communal statements, from the prime minister himself in election campaigns to members of Parliament who have reinforced the myth of the majority being under siege to the party’s senior leadership, which launched a concerted attack on the Congress for being a “Muslim party”?
- Is there a plan to reverse the foreign policy failures of the past few years? Relations with neighbours such as China and Pakistan have nosedived, as India saw border frictions with both. And for all of Modi’s bonhomie with United States President Donald Trump, India finds itself manoeuvring for room between America and Iran.
- How the Centre explain its failures in Kashmir, which has seen a rising graph of violence in the last three years, where all attempts at dialogue have failed or been abandoned, where government seems to have ceded ground to the military, allowing it to set the course for a new belligerence?
- Could the government clarify its position on Aadhaar, the 12-digit unique identification number, addressing concerns about privacy, misuse and errors which have tragic consequences for the poorest of the poor who depend on it to get vital food rations?
- How does the BJP respond to allegations that the autonomy of vital institutions, from the judiciary to the Election Commission to the Central Bureau of Investigation, is being eroded?
- How does the government plan to tackle the growing concerns that freedom of speech and the right to dissent are being curbed, with a slew of internet bans and sedition cases over the past few years?
- How does the BJP defend the upheavals in the education system, including systemic changes like disbanding the University Grants Commision and the dubious award of “institute of eminence” tag to universities yet to start functioning? How does it respond to allegations that political appointees have been placed in universities and other institutions of higher education in an attempt to control them?
The Big Scroll
Vijayta Lalwani tells you all you need to know about the no-confidence motion.
- In the Indian Express, Sanjib Baruah weighs in on the debate around Arunachal Pradesh’s anti-conversion law.
- In the Hindu, G Sampath writes that the campaign, #TalkToAMuslim marks a symbolic victory but it is shameful that Muslims should have to start such an outreach.
- In the Telegraph, Anup Sinha looks at a history of trade wars and national interest.
Anita Katyal explains why Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not want a no-confidence motion in March but is fine with it now:
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.