The no confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government was decisively defeated after an acrimonious debate in the Lok Sabha that witnessed political gamesmanship with Rahul Gandhi hugging the prime minister who hit back saying he was in a hurry to unseat him and grab his chair.
A total of 325 MPs opposed while 126 MPs supported the no trust motion moved by the TDP, a former BJP ally, during the division after a marathon 12-hour debate. A total of 451 MPs were present and voted in the House and the majority mark required in a House with an effective strength of 534 MPs came down to 226.
The victory of the BJP-led NDA government was not unexpected but the intense debate gave an opportunity to the leaders of rival parties to set the agenda for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The no trust motion was the first after Modi assumed office in May 2014 and less than a year before the next general elections.
“Arrogance is behind the no confidence motion,” Modi said in his reply and hit out at the Congress, saying this is not the floor test of the government but a “force” test of the main opposition party and its so-called allies. He said the only thing they have to say is- ‘remove Modi’.
“We are ‘bhagidars'(collaborator) to people’s dreams, to the poor people of the country. I am ‘chowkidar’ and ‘bhagidar’, but not a ‘saudagar’ (trader) or ‘thekedar’ (contractor) like you,” Modi said during the course of his 90-minute speech in a blunt retort to Gandhi that drew cheers from the Treasury benches.
Several AIADMK members opposed the motion that came as a boost to the NDA. The AIADMK has 37 MPs. “AIADMK supported government, voted against no-confidence motion,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar. Members of BJP ally Shiv Sena(18 MPs), BJD(19) and TRS (14) abstained.
The National Democratic Alliance(NDA) has 313 members including 274 (including the Speaker)of BJP, 18 of Shiv Sena, six of Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP and four from Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD).
The stinging attack on the Congress by Modi in his response to allegations against the government and Gandhi accusing the prime minister of being a ‘bhagidar’ (collaborator) in corruption and not a ‘chowkidar’ and saying people were victims of his ‘jumla'(gimmickery) strikes virtually set the stage for for an intense faceoff during the 2019 polls.
Capping a power-packed speech in which Gandhi unleashing a vitriolic attack on Modi on the government on multiple issues, from farmer distress to the Rafale jet deal, Gandhi strode across the lower house to hug Modi and then winked at his colleagues after returning to his seat, sparking a debate on the appropriateness of his action.
But it was his walk across the green-carpeted Well of House at the end to hug Modi that left almost everyone, not the least the prime minister, surprised. Modi shook Gandhi’s hands but ignored his call to stand so that he could hug the BJP leader. The Congress chief, however, embraced him as he remained seated.
Modi initially looked nonplussed and did not stand up to hug him, but recovered quickly and called Gandhi back and patted him on the back. He also appeared to say a few words, which were inaudible Modi.
The prime minister was seen laughing when Gandhi persisted with his comments that Modi was unable to look him in his eyes on the issue of the controversial Rafale deal.
“Who am I to look you in the eyes. I am a “kaamdar” and you are a “naamdar”,” Modi responded and made a veiled reference to Gandhi’s wink, saying, “The entire country saw what the eyes did today. It is clear in front of everyone”
“History is witness to the fact that Congress has always insulted those who tried to look them in the eyes.” Modi said it is the arrogance of people who say ‘when I speak, the PM will not stand for 15 minutes’, in a veiled reference to the Congress chief’s taunt at him.
Tearing into the Congress, Modi said the no-trust debate has exposed those who indulge in negative politics and are opposed to development, as he listed out the various achievements of his four-year-old government.
Taking a swipe at Gandhi without naming him, the prime minister said, “It is a trial for getting other parties’ support for his PM’s candidature. But others too have ambitions.”
“In the morning, the voting was not over, the debate was also not over one member comes running to me saying- Utho Utho Utho…(get up get up…). What is his hurry to come to power? Let me tell this member it is the people who elected us. That is how we have come here: In a democracy don’t be in a hurry.”
Confident the NDA will return to power next year, he taunted the Congress and other opposition parties on two occasions, ” I am asking you to bring this no-confidence motion in 2024.”
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan reprimanded Gandhi for the hug, calling it a “drama” and said everyone must maintain decorum in Parliament.
Gandhi also accused the government of “lying” to the nation on the issue of sharing details of the controversial Rafale jet deal which was rejected strongly by Modi who called the charges “distortion of truth”.
In his response, Modi urged Gandhi not to make such childish allegations on such sensitive issues having security implications. “The allegations are distortion of truth.”