The No Confidence motion was meant to be an attack against the Modi government instead it ended up looking more like a motion of no confidence in the idea of a larger opposition unity against the prime minister! Nobody doubted that the Modi government would win the vote ( the BJP had 273 and NDA including Shiv Sena had 312 odd votes in a House that has 533 members with the halfway mark pegged at 267) but the final numbers ( 325 against the motion and only 126 for it )reveal how floor managers of the Modi government managed to outwit and outsmart the opposition strategists! To have managed to surpass the tally of NDA (312 including Shiv Sena) despite the Shiv Sena abstaining was certainly no mean feat!
The No Confidence motion that was aimed at showcasing opposition unity ended up displaying opposition disunity! It was expected that they would muster at least 140 votes but ended up with merely 126! Instead of putting the Modi government on test it ended up like a political “Sanjeevni booṭi” that now provides an already popular PM Modi with a cloak of immunity to carry out his agenda inside and outside Parliament as we head into election year 2019! This leads me to ask whether the opposition read too much into the results of a few bypolls and the friction between allies within the NDA? Did it miscalculate both the political mood and political maths by pushing for this Trust vote? What does the result mean for the larger opposition unity? What does it mean for the final showdown in 2019? And how does this translate in terms of leadership and popularity quotient for the possible principal protagonists of 2019 namely Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?
In April 1999 Sonia Gandhi had declared ‘We have 272 and we hope to get more,” outside Rashtrapati Bhavan as she attempted to dislodge the Vajpayee government.
She was unsuccessful in that attempt! Nineteen years later both her words and fate sound eerily similar! “Who said we don’t have the numbers” she asked rhetorically two days before the crucial floor test! As the day unfolded, it was clear that she had miscalculated. By raising expectations on this front Mrs Gandhi missed an opportunity to turn this battle into one between “majority and morality”. Had her articulation laid more emphasis on eroding the moral authority of the government rather than challenging its numerical strength, at the end of the No Confidence exercise, she and the Congress could have drawn some “moral victory” despite the defeat. Clearly, it is not just Rahul Gandhi but perhaps even Sonia Gandhi who seems to have lost her innate political instincts. This reflects at the very least political disconnect and perhaps at the very worst a sense of political delusion.
Modi government’s floor managers also outwitted the opposition by calling their bluff and immediately going in for the Trust Vote. Nobody in the opposition was expecting the motion to be admitted so quickly. They were banking on playing up the rhetoric that the Modi government was running away from a No Confidence motion! Buoyed by the results of the by-polls in Gorakhpur, Phoolpur and Kairana the wider opposition seemed to have a spring in its step and had found its voice! Little did they expect that the tables would turn so quickly! In the hurly-burly of TV sound bites and political rhetoric, often dominated by disgruntled NDA allies voicing their angst against the BJP, the opposition forgot that usually what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, especially in politics! They seriously underrated the ability of BJP President Amit Shah in bringing and keeping the NDA allies together on the same page when push comes to shove!
Rahul Gandhi’s almost hour-long speech ended with him giving PM Modi an unsolicited hug! Many thought it was a smart move to garner much-needed media attention but serious questions on jobs and agriculture raised by Rahul lost out due to his histrionics. The Speaker too disapproved of his behaviour. What made it worse is that Rahul returned to his seat and winked to a colleague which was captured by all the cameras and gave an impression that his entire antics were pre-planned and scripted! Another gaffe committed was him quoting out of his private meeting with the French President while speaking on the Rafale deal! Rahul accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying when she said a “secret pact” existed between India and France! Rahul claimed the French President had told him personally that no such pact existed! The Foreign Office of France immediately clarified that Rahul’s claims were not accurate! This left the 48-year-old looking like he was misleading Parliament and also attracted a Privilege Motion against him! Eventually, that entire exchange with Nirmala Sitharaman dented the credibility of his claims. It also gave the BJP and the PM to launch a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi projecting him as “arrogant” and “untruthful”.
Modi’s Point by Point rebuttal
The PM speaking last delivered a detailed almost two-hour presentation on jobs, agriculture, his government’s commitment against corruption and spiced it up with his rhetorical and oratory skills! His digs were primarily aimed at Sonia and Rahul Gandhi even as the dismantled the shaky project of “opposition unity” trying to be forged against him. By the time his speech ended, not only did he manage the numbers in Loksabha he also managed to garner back all the media attention and more importantly moral and political authority entering into the countdown for 2019! Whatever little symbolic value it could have had in reducing the Modi government into a defacto lame duck administration was lost in the comfortable manner in which the treasury benches managed to sail through the floor test!