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What did the Congress want?
T V R Shenoy | August 21, 2003 16:47 IST
Last Updated: August 21, 2003 17:01 IST
Once upon a time, we used to wait up to midnight on Janmashtami to celebrate the birth of Krishna. This year, I could hardly stop yawning as the debate on the Congress-sponsored no-confidence motion dragged on and on. (The South Indian Janmashtami came one day before the one in North India.) And yet at the end of it all one question remained unanswered: Why?
This was definitely the weirdest such motion I have seen tabled in the Lok Sabha -- and heaven knows we have seen enough of them since 1989. The difference lay in one fact: that there was no mystery whatsoever about the eventual outcome.
The fall of the V P Singh, Deve Gowda, I K Gujral, and Vajpayee ministries were all accompanied by plenty of drama, and even the Narasimha Rao ministry never actually possessed an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha until well into the second half of its tenure.
This time, half the speakers from the Opposition benches seemed to lead off their speeches with the cheerful admission that they knew that the motion was bound to fall flat on its face. And given the margin of the government's victory -- 126 votes in a House with a total strength of 543 (with several abstentions) -- they were absolutely right.
So, why on earth did the Congress (I) decide to table a no-confidence motion just now? I could have understood had it done so earlier, in the aftermath of the violence in Gujarat for instance. (I am not saying that the Opposition would have had a better chance of winning last year, merely that the time would have been better.) Surely the Congress (I) high command anticipated that there would be some anger at this wilful waste of time of Parliament. We may as well give up all hope of seeing the Women's Representation Act -- even in that ridiculous, watered-down dual-Member version -- in the life of this Lok Sabha, but surely there was other legislation waiting to be passed. Wasn't there, for instance, some talk of amending the Drugs Act to make it a capital offence to manufacture spurious medicines?
I can only think of one logical reason for the Congress (I) leadership choosing to exercise its option of moving a no-confidence motion at this point in time: namely as a smokescreen. If my assumption is correct, what could Sonia Gandhi and her cohorts have been trying to cover up?
One possibility is that the Congress (I) high command was embarrassed at the unenthusiastic response to the decision taken at the Shimla brainstorming session to co-opt other parties to take on the National Democratic Alliance. Mulayam Singh Yadav -- whose support is essential in Uttar Pradesh -- was remarkable mostly for his silence.
In fact, only the Left Front and Laloo Prasad Yadav seemed remotely willing to discuss the option seriously. A no-confidence motion might, some would say, have the inevitable consequence of forcing the Opposition to stand together. What is more, it would underline the fact that Sonia Gandhi is the leader of the Opposition -- not just because she holds the title in the Lok Sabha, but as a ground reality.
Has the Congress (I) succeeded (assuming that this was in fact an objective)? Judging by P A Sangma's speech and the ease with which Samajwadi Party members were provoked to rebut mention of accepting Sonia Gandhi, I would say the results were distinctly mixed. So, could there be any other reason?
The second possibility is that an embarrassed Congress leadership was trying to distract public attention from dissension within the ranks. In a matter of weeks, the party has been forced to accept the fact that there is discontent in the southern states that are crucial to the party's survival. One can dismiss Vasant Sathe and N K P Salve leaving the party over the demand to carve a separate Vidarbha from Maharashtra as a last throw of the dice by two old men craving publicity. The same reason can be trotted out to explain why K Karunakaran is creating trouble for A K Antony.
All of this is possible, but the fact remains that all these leaders have raised issues that strike a chord with the public. Vidarbha feels it is ignored at the cost of the rest of Maharashtra. Telengana thinks it hasn't received its due from Andhra Pradesh. These grievances are not going to go away just because they are inconvenient.
A no-confidence motion can distract everyone for a couple of days, but these problems will remain -- for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress (I) alike.