The rejection of a no-confidence motion because of the lack of adequate numbers in its favour is not necessarily a declaration of confidence in the government of the day. What the rejection signifies is that the party that tried to move it does not command adequate support within Parliament. Mamata Banerjee is certainly not the first and will not be the last politician to harbour delusions about the influence she commands. She made a quixotic attempt to charge at the United Progressive Alliance government with the aim of toppling it but ended up with only 21 people supporting her in the Lok Sabha. To say that the attempt ended in a whimper would be an exaggeration. The result was entirely predictable to all save the person who conceived of the idea. But the proposed no-confidence motion, no more than a minor ripple in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha, provides an occasion to reflect on the notion of a no-confidence motion.
The idea of a no-confidence is an integral part of parliamentary procedure. But any perusal of the history of the British parliament will reveal that this particular instrument has been used only rarely. One reason for its rare use is that it creates instability within the polity. The other reason is that by the use of the whip most no-confidence motions are easily defeated. Thus a no-confidence motion has no more than a symbolic significance and is thus avoided. To avoid the predicament of instability, an alternative has been mooted: those moving the motion of no-confidence should also take a vote of confidence to demonstrate to parliament and the country that there will be a continuity of government. Otherwise, the result will be a series of elections. This is not something that is healthy for the polity. The no-confidence motion and its counter, the whip, are both antiquated ideas. The former in the House of Commons is honoured only in the breach. This has become part of the convention of the House of Commons in a country which is still governed, on many issues, by unwritten codes of conduct.
India is not a democracy governed by conventions. It is governed by a written and bulky Constitution. The propensity to legislate on everything has become part of India’s political structure and tradition. Whatever the merits and demerits of this situation, it does open up the space to look into the idea of a no-confidence motion without its vote of confidence counterpart. For the sake of argument, let it be assumed that a no-confidence is not only admitted but it also succeeds. What would be the result? The government would fall. A few days of bargaining would follow when attempts are made to cobble together another government with a majority in the Lok Sabha. When such attempts fail, as they are likely to under the present circumstances, a general election will ensue with a huge drain on the exchequer. A new legislation on no-confidence motions would do no harm in an already over-legislated polity.