Congress Can Now Hope for a 2003 Redux: Losing Trust Vote Battle to Win 2019 War
Viewers were left wondering why the Opposition had given NaMo a chance to grandstand in Parliament before the general election.
News18 cartoonist Mir Suhail's take on the drama in Lok Sabha on Friday.
The no-trust motion was politics as its most entertaining, with all the pyrotechnics one could wish for. A popcorn-worthy drama, with incendiary speeches on both sides, a diplomatic near-crisis and a stunning Arjun-seeking-Bheeshma-Pitamah's-blessings moment, as Rahul Gandhi crossed the floor to hug the Prime Minister.
The twist in the plot came at the very end, when the final numbers popped up. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) 325, Opposition 126. The NDA did better than expected, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) much worse. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had walked out at the outset and the Shiv Sena was a no-show, so the numbers represented a big coup for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
If the Congress had hoped to win over the fence-sitters, it was disappointed, as the regional parties continue to suffer from severe commitment issues. Despite some of them voting against the NDA, it's obvious that the mahagathbandhan is a long way from being actualised. There are contradiction galore. As Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Jayadev Galla pointed out, it was the Congress which ripped Andhra Pradesh apart, in a 'crude, unscientific way'.
The Congress had assumed it would win the propaganda battle by showcasing a new, improved Rahul Gandhi: combative, witty, engaging. He spoke great intensity, yelling himself hoarse, gestured aggressively and looked every bit the angry young man. He attacked the PM with Rottweiler ferocity on demonetisation, GST, crony capitalism, lack of job creation, the agrarian crisis and the Rafale deal.
Perceptions began to change when it turned out that he had erroneously accused Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying on Rafale. Trying to knock Modi's anti-corruption plank from under him, he had alleged a payoff and declared that Sitharaman had lied when she said the details of the contract were protected by an Indo-French confidentiality agreement. His source, he said, was none other than French president Emmanuel Macron.
The allegation boomeranged when the French government clarified that a confidentiality clause was in place. This put the Congress in an awkward spot, because either its president had gotten it wrong or the French government had. So which president was lying? The BJP promptly moved a privilege motion against Gandhi. Modi seized the opportunity to scold Gandhi for twisting the truth and playing childish games with the country's security.
Even the RaGa-NaMo hug was robbed of its sincerity and warmth when a cocky Gandhi winked at a colleague as if to say, “Did you see me ambush him?” Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ticked off Rahul for his Rafale rant and his hugging and winking.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in his characteristic conversational style, wore an expression of good humour, raised his voice only for dramatic effect and exuded limitless confidence.
The PM took the mickey out of the Opposition for tabling the no-trust motion: “They said I would not be able to stand for 15 minutes. I am standing, on four years of good work”. He then proceeded to reply to the Congress' charges point-by-point and paint the party as unreliable, incompetent on the economic front, distrustful of institutions, wishy-washy on development and nationalism and arrogant in the extreme.
He said the no-trust motion reflected the Congress hubris and took a dig at Sonia Gandhi's “Who says we don't have the numbers?” remark, which segued into her legendary “We have the support of 272” boo-boo. If the party-in-a-hurry wanted to test the loyalty of its allies, he added, it should not have used the no-trust motion as an excuse.
Viewers were left wondering why the Opposition had given NaMo a chance to grandstand in Parliament before the general election. Perhaps, the Opposition hadn't anticipated that the government would accept their no-trust motion. Perhaps, they felt it was a great opportunity to test the waters ahead of 2019.
Rahul's attack was Modi-centric and the BJP's counter revolved around the PM's mass appeal and achievements. Such was the chai-wala PM's moral authority, Home minister Rajnath Singh pointed out, that he had deployed philanthropy as a public policy tool and induced citizens to give up subsidies.
The BJP beat the MSP drum for all it was worth, flaunting its farmer-friendliness. The 'world's fastest growing economy' tag was waved in the Opposition's face and GDP growth figures were scattered like confetti. A ding-dong battle followed, with the BJP tom-tomming Swachh Bharat, rural electrification and other schemes and the Congress rubbishing its claims.
It was too much to expect that the BJP would not strike at RaGa's Achilles heel — his silver spoon upbringing. A child of privilege, the Home minister said with a wry smile, can never understand the sufferings of farmers. The Congress, for its part, struck at the BJP's sensitive spot, the RSS.
The Congress may be on back foot, but it can still hope for a 2003 redux: losing the trust vote battle only to win the general election war.
(The writer is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)
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