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No-trust fight set for Friday

Parliament House
Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government will face a no-confidence motion on Friday, the BJP seeing an opportunity to launch its general election campaign and attack the Opposition for its "single-point oust-Modi" agenda.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan admitted the no-confidence motion, moved by the Telugu Desam Party and backed by the wider Opposition, on Wednesday and scheduled the discussion and voting for Friday.

Unlike the last budget session, when the government blocked a notice for a no-trust motion, the treasury benches seemed to welcome the Opposition's move on Wednesday.

"The government is ready to face a no-confidence motion. Narendra Modi enjoys the confidence of the people, and the BJP and the NDA have two-thirds majority in the House," parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said.

Congress MPs said the point was not to topple the government but to "expose" its failures on all fronts, from banking frauds to agriculture, at a time the Opposition got little opportunity to speak on these issues in Parliament.

Repeated Opposition attempts to move a no-confidence motion had failed during the budget session. The Speaker had refused to admit it saying the disorder in the House had made it impossible for her to count whether the notice had the support of the requisite 50 members.

Mahajan was referring to the continual ruckus being created in the House by the AIADMK and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti on state issues, which led some Opposition members to accuse them of working covertly for the government.

On Wednesday, the House was in order, and over 50 members stood up to be counted in support of the motion.

With 9 vacancies, the strength of the Lok Sabha is now 535 (not counting the Speaker). The BJP alone has 273 members - well above the majority mark of 268 - and can expect votes from its allies and tactical support from some Opposition parties. The AIADMK (37 members) and Biju Janata Dal (20) did not support the no-confidence motion on Wednesday.

"We have nothing to fear. Modiji will tell the people how he was working day and night for the country while the Opposition harboured an obsessive hatred for him," a BJP general secretary said.

He said Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders were no match for Modi, who would use the occasion to silence his rivals again and reach out to the voters.

Asked why the government had blocked a no-confidence motion in the last session, he said it was all about the timing: "Now we are in election mode."

Government managers said that by admitting the no-confidence motion on the first day of the session, they had taken the wind out of the Opposition's sails. "Now they can't disrupt the House any more. We want to pass several important bills with an eye on the elections," a BJP politician said.

The government believes the recent hike in the support prices of crops has placated rural voters, making this a favourable time to corner the Opposition.

Some embarrassment is likely, however, from restive allies like the Shiv Sena, which has not been passing up any opportunity to attack the government.

The Sena, which has 18 MPs, is not expected to vote against the government but could censure it during the discussions and abstain from voting. The party has not declared its stand, though.

The ease with which the no-confidence motion was admitted has triggered speculation about the possibility of an early Lok Sabha election --- perhaps at the end of the year, simultaneously with polls in three states where the BJP faces anti-incumbency.

Congress members K.C. Venugopal and Rajeev Satav listed some of the issues the party is likely to raise: jobs, the farmers' plight, corruption, foreign policy, Kashmir and the economy.

"The bank frauds, including the Nirav Modi saga, have not been discussed (in the House) yet. We'll force the Prime Minister to answer questions now," Venugopal said.

A senior Congress politician said: "We have nothing to lose, but the government will be exposed on many fronts. While allies like the Shiv Sena will lend their voice, if not votes, to the Opposition cause, Modi will, for a change, have to answer specific questions."

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