Seventy two hours ahead of the winter session of Parliament, the Congress said it was certain it could defeat a no-confidence motion brought against the United Progressive Alliance government. Indeed, the idea of facing a no-confidence motion --something that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Bannerjee wishes to sponsor -- bothers them far less than a resolution opposing foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail under a rule that entails voting.
“We will prove our majority on the floor of the Lok Sabha whenever any such motion comes,” party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said, adding, “We have more than 272.”
The Congress’ confidence about its ability to muster the numbers in case Ms Bannerjee rustles up the 54 MPs she needs to back a no-trust move (she has just 19 MPs) springs from the fact that most political parties are not keen to face elections at this moment. Indeed, on Monday, two days after Ms Bannerjee first issued her threat, both the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the Communist Party of India-Marxist stressed that they had no intention of backing a no-confidence motion.
Such a move, the BJP-led NDA feels, will help the Congress to mobilise parties that have publicly opposed `unpopular’ government decisions, and allow it to claim that Parliament has endorsed them all, including FDI in multi- brand retail. Moreover, once a no-trust motion is defeated, the opposition cannot bring another for at least six months.
Publicly, thus far, NDA leaders are reluctant to outright reject the proposal of the Trinamool chief, a potential ally for 2014, now that she has split with the UPA: Ms Bannerjee has after all, held both the railways and coal and mines portfolios in an NDA government.
A nuanced formal response on the subject, explaining why a no-confidence motion at this juncture is not a good idea, is likely to emerge from the NDA camp only after the BJP’s parliamentary party executive meets on Tuesday morning and NDA leaders give final shape to its strategy for the session in the evening.
The CPI (M), on its part, has openly rebuffed the Trinamool ’s suggestion: “A no-confidence motion (in Lok Sabha),” CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat said on Monday, “will only help the government cover up all the wrong measures it has taken and claim a parliamentary mandate, as it has the numbers to defeat such a motion.”
But while Mr Karat made it clear that he opposed a no-trust move, he said he hoped the Left parties would be able to mobilise support among opposition parties to sponsor a motion on a specific set of issues to “put the government in the dock”.
CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury, elaborating on why the Left preferred a motion on a specific issue with voting, said that while a no-confidence motion “cannot be issue-specific,” a Left-sponsored motion entailing voting, opposing FDI, would be “a much better strategy to defeat the government's move”.
He also pointed out that while the Samajwadi Party, which had
participated in the anti-FDI strike in September, would support such a motion, it would not back a no-confidence vote.
Indeed, on Monday, a UPA ally, the DMK said it would speak against FDI if it was debated in Parliament – it, however, kept its counsel on which way it would vote if such an eventuality were to arise. DMK sources, however, indicated that if push came to shove, it would abstain from voting or walk out.
Indeed, it is for this reason that the government wants to prevent a resolution opposing FDI under a rule that entails voting: for while a defeat would not result in the collapse of the government (as the victory of the opposition in a no-confidence motion will), it would weaken the government.
On Monday, Mr Dikshit, echoing commerce minister Anand Sharama, said voting took place usually on decisions over which the legislature had jurisdiction, not those taken through an executive order.
Mr Karat, however, rejected this assertion and cited an episode in 2001, when the party’s Roopchand Pal had moved a motion against the disinvestment of BALCO and NDA had allowed a vote on it. To this, Mr Dikshit said, “If the Speaker so decides, we are happy to discuss any issue under any rule.”
But if Mr Dikshit was circumspect in his remarks about Ms Bannerjee, information and broadcasting minister
Manish Tewari, speaking separately, let fly: “This is a peculiar situation in the history of Parliament that a 19-member party is talking of a no-confidence motion, “he said, adding, “At some point, you have to evolve from being a street fighter to a statesperson, from an agitator to an administrator. I do hope that the Chief Minister of West Bengal introspects on that.”