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Why the no-trust motion fell flat

July 21, 2018 18:40 IST

'The debate, by being mostly in Hindi, lost much of its educative relevance to the southern states.'
'All the prime minister's debating skills and oratorical prowess went over the heads of the South Indian audience,' points out B S Raghavan, the distinguished civil servant.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi during his 90 minute reply to the no confidence motion.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi during his 90 minute reply to the no confidence motion.

First a disclaimer: The intention of this article is not to analyse the Lok Sabha debate of July 20, 2018 on the motion of no-confidence brought against the National Democratic Alliance government led by Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Beginning from the one moved by Acharya J B Kripalani against the Jawaharlal Nehru government in 1963, there have been 15 such motions against the Indira Gandhi government, and five against the P V Narasimha Rao government.

They have been a regular feature of India's parliamentary democracy, just as they are of the British parliamentary system. Winston Churchill, leading a national government during the most critical time of the Second World War, had to face three of them.

Even though incumbent governments may survive such motions, they nevertheless serve the vitally important national purpose of placing in the hands of people's representatives a most potent instrument capable of removing an ineffective and unresponsive government at will.

They provide the widest possible canvass for a free-for-all discussion of the policies of the government of the day.

Thereby, they also serve the twin purpose of educating the people at large and keeping the government on its toes.

As such, Prime Minister Modi did well to caution the MPs in advance of the debate that 'India will be watching us closely', and urging them to 'rise to the occasion and ensure a constructive, comprehensive and disruption-free debate' as a duty they owe 'to the people and the makers of our Constitution'.

 

The only comment I will make on the merits of the no-confidence motion is that I find it somewhat incongruous that parties opposed to the government should have jumped on to the bandwagon of the Telugu Desam Party whose grievance had to do with the denial by the Modi government of the so-called 'special category status' to Andhra Pradesh and little in common with what ought to have been the legitimate concerns of the Opposition as a whole.

The concept of a special category state was first introduced in 1969 when the 5th Finance Commission sought to provide to certain disadvantaged states preferential treatment in the form of central assistance and tax breaks.

Initially, three states -- Assam, Nagaland and Jammu & Kashmir -- were granted that status, and subsequently eight more -- Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand -- were added.

But that status has lost much of its significance after the 14th Finance Commission in 2015 increased the states' share of net Union tax revenues to 42 from 32 per cent.

In any case, the heavens would not have fallen if the government had conferred it on one more state. It could have thereby retained the TDP in the NDA.

The TDP too, on its part, could have quietly continued to pressure the government without getting so worked up over it as to escalate it to such a pitch of tabling a no-confidence motion.

I am not entering into the merits of the motion because everything about it was predictable from the beginning to the end.

That it will be defeated was a foregone conclusion.

The litany of charges levelled against the government as also the explanations advanced by the government were all known from before, having been traded in public for months.

The course of the debate ran to form, with the members, by and large, being mindful of the prime Mminister's appeal.

Those who did not watch the debate live, and even those who did, would have had their fill by reading the extensive coverage in the print media, and they do not need yet one more commentary on the merits of the issues to come to their own conclusions.

For all these reasons, I am here more into the manner than into the matter.

First, the debate, by being mostly in Hindi, lost much of its educative relevance to the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu where the BJP is longing to expand its presence. Even Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress chose to impress with his proficiency in Hindi.

All the prime minister's debating skills and oratorical prowess, and his effective cuts and thrusts, went over the heads of the South Indian audience.

The prime minister has shown himself to be as good in English as in Hindi, and he could have put forward at least the salient parts of his reply in English.

If the BJP is keen to spread its wings in the South, and in Tamil Nadu, it should stand forth as a national, all-India party, in the eyes of the Southerners rather than as a predominantly North Indian Party.

It does not have to do simply with Hindi. It applies even to its conduct of party business.

For instance, Modi's consultations over the strategy to be adopted were confined to Amit Anilchandra Shah, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari, and his choice of BJP leaders to be the main speakers fell on Rajnath Singh, Rakesh Singh and Virendra Singh.

It should come out of its parochial mindset and make conscious efforts to groom promising BJP leaders of the South into acquiring the stature of national leaders on par with those of the North.

Psychological sensibilities are imperative in promoting a party in a complex and diverse country like India, much more than merely looking after the nuts and bolts of the party organisational set-up.

A sensitive, imaginative leader like Modi cannot be unaware of this.

I wish he had not mockingly and dismissively brushed aside Rahul Gandhi's hug in his speech.

Here again, strangely, the lack of psychological empathy is at play.

From what I could see, it was a genuine and spontaneous display of emotional upsurge on Rahul's part as a natural extension of his concluding remarks and deserved considerate handling by Modi with a response somewhat on these lines: 'I was overwhelmed by the display of affection shown by the young president of the Congress party when he unexpectedly walked over and hugged me.'

'He still has many years of public life left, and I sincerely wish for him a career as illustrious as that of his great grandfather. The only hurdle is that he is in the wrong party.'

Modi could then have brought the entire House down by adding: 'I cordially invite him to cross over to this side of the House, to know what it is to belong to a great, vibrant party of the future and what opportunities there are to realise the maximum potential of his talents.'

Finally, a word about Rahul Gandhi. The young leader is yet to go some distance to demonstrate that he has the necessary gravitas to grow into a national leader.

He should learn to make his points in a calm, collected, restrained and dignified manner, and not gesticulate so wildly and speak in such a way as if he is screaming his guts out.

B S Raghavan is a former member of the Indian Administrative Service, an author and political and economic columnist of note.

B S Raghavan