New Delhi Correspondent
Amid high drama by top opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, a marathon and lively debate was witnessed in the lower House of Indian parliament on Friday on an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose chances of easily winning the voting on the motion brightened with lawmakers of his ally Shiv Sena staying away from the proceedings and another key regional party staging a walk-out.
The lawmakers of Biju Janata Dal, which rules eastern state of Odisha walked out prior to the debate while Shiv Sena skipped the session, which means both the parties will abstain from the no-trust vote.
As a result, the total membership of the Lok Sabha has shrunk to 495 from its effective strength of 533 with the majority mark required for ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies also coming down at 249 from 267. The government is expecting 330 votes. The BJP on its own has 263 lawmakers and the National Democratic Alliance led by it has 313 lawmakers. The parties opposing the government are expected to muster 154 votes.
Modi is expected to reply to the debate at 8.30 pm Indian time before the voting on the first no-trust motion against him late on Friday evening.
Today’s no-confidence motion, the 27th in Parliamentary history, is the first to be admitted in 15 years. The previous such motion was in 2003 when the Congress party had moved a no-confidence motion against the then BJP government headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Taking part in the debate, Rahul, President of Congress party, led the opposition’s offensive against the Modi government on several issues but after his speech he hugged Modi and moments later winked at Congress lawmakers in highly dramatic scenes in the Lok Sabha.
In his speech, Rahul brought the PM into the firing line right from the beginning accusing him of being a bhagidar’ (collaborator) in corruption and alleged Indians were victims of Modi’s ‘jumla’ strikes “fake” promises and assurances.
Gandhi’s no-holds barred attack at Modi on a range of issues including the controversial Rafale jet deal in his hour-long speech during a debate on the no-confidence motion against the government often drew loud protests from the treasury benches but it was his hug of Modi that stunned almost everyone including the Prime Minister.
This is possibly the first time that an opposition leader has hugged the Prime Minister on the floor of parliament especially during a no-confidence motion. Akali Dal lady lawmaker Harsimrat Kaur objected to Rahul’s hug and Lok Sabha Speaker Mahajan also gently reminded Gandhi that this was the country’s legislature and not a place for such gestures.
In his nearly hour-long speech, Rahul tore into the government for scrapping of big currency notes two years ago, alleged corruption in the Rafale fighter plane deal with France and incidents of lynching in the country, among other things.
Rahul attacked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman alleging she lied over the price of the Rafale jets.” “The Defence Minister said the details of Rafale deal cannot be revealed as India has a secrecy pact with the French govt. The fact of the matter is that the French President personally told me that there is no secret pact between the two governments,” Rahul said.
He alleged the original contract for the Rafael deal was withdrawn from India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautical Limited and given to a gentleman who benefitted approximately Rs 45,000 crores. “The Defence Minister has clearly spoken an untruth. The PM must explain whether the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the deal. Why has a businessman benefitted?” Rahul said.
Rahul said “the PM is smiling but there is a touch of nervousness in the gentleman and he is looking away from me. He cannot look into my eyes, I understand that. The prime minister cannot be truthful, I understand.”
Questioning Modi’s “silence” over lynching cases in India, Rahul said “Whenever someone is attacked, it is an attack on the Constitution and this House. There are reports of attacks on Dalits, Adivasis, minorities. The prime minister never says a word about them. Don’t they belong to this country? Instead, their ministers go and garland the convicts.”
Rahul said the PM had said that every person will get Rs 15 lakh and that two crore youth will get jobs every year. These are “jumla” (false promises) and four lakh people have got jobs according to the labour department survey, he alleged.
Sitharaman termed as “absolutely wrong” Rahul Gandhi’s claim that there was no confidentiality clause in the Rafale aircraft deal with France and said the initial agreement was signed when the UPA was in power in 2008.
Making an intervention, she said the India-France agreement to buy the fighter jets was signed in 2008 by the then defence minister A K Antony (a senior Congress leader) and it had the confidentiality clause. The defence minister said, “Whatever Rahul Gandhi said was absolutely wrong and there is no proof.”
Responding to the opposition attack on the BJP-led government over instances of mob lynching, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the 1984 anti-Sikh riot was the “biggest” such incident during Congress party’s rule. The anti-Sikh riots had broken out soon after the assassination of the then PM Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984, leaving thousands of Sikhs dead.