On July 20, the Modi government faced its first no-confidence motion in Parliament. While the government easily won the vote with a comfortable majority, the debate left the government badly exposed. Even the voting pattern signalled an adverse realignment of forces for the Modi regime. The motion was moved by the TDP which was a major ally of the BJP till recently. Another long-standing NDA constituent, Shiv Sena, also chose to walk out, threatening to sever its ties with the NDA in the next elections. Of course, two parties that were not part of the NDA in 2014 – the JD(U) of Bihar and AIADMK of Tamil Nadu – are now with the BJP, but the latter knows it very well that both these parties are hugely discredited in their respective states and their real current electoral worth could be anybody’s guess.
Rahul Gandhi and a few other opposition speakers raised a number of important issues about the betrayal and non-performance of the regime, about the unabashed crony capitalism and exponentially increasing corruption and unemployment, about the deepening agrarian crisis and the ubiquitous lynch mobs. But the government had no answer to any of these specific issues. Taken aback by the unexpected Rahul Gandhi hug, Modi devoted much of his speech to the opposition and Rahul Gandhi, his hug and the subsequent wink, and even mimicking Sonia Gandhi’s accent, in what must be regarded as an all-time low in parliamentary debates.
Modi termed the no-confidence motion, a key instrument of debate for the opposition in a parliamentary democracy, an act of arrogance on the part of the opposition. He even prayed to God to give the opposition the strength to bring another no-confidence motion in 2024. To accuse the opposition of arrogance for doing its job of holding the government accountable is itself an unmistakable expression of arrogance. It is with this customary arrogance that Modi has never held a single press conference during his tenure so far nor has he bothered to attend and answer Parliament on important questions the country wanted an answer from him. In fact, more often than not he has bypassed the cabinet and used his own office as the sole decision-making authority even on disastrous experiments like demonetization.
The no-confidence motion debate happened in the shadow of a series of mob lynching episodes. In Hapur, the country had witnessed the most disturbing image of open partnership between the lynch mob and the police as farmer Mohammad Qasim was beaten to death while guarding his field and dragged along the road and stuffed in a police vehicle. In Medinipur in West Bengal, in a rally of the Prime Minister, we saw the mob beating up a policeman in uniform. And just a couple of days before the debate in Parliament, when the Supreme Court expressed grave concern over the growing incidence of lynching attacks and asked governments to stop lynching, we saw youth wing members of the ruling party beat up the octogenarian saffron clad Swami Agnivesh.
If anything, India wanted an assurance from the powers against this descent of constitutional democracy into mobocracy. But what the country got was yet another loaded whataboutery from the Union Home Minister who reminded us that mob-lynching had been happening before and that the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom was the biggest instance of mob lynching. Earlier we saw 1984 being bracketed with Gujarat 2002 and indeed both are instances of not just lynch mob violence but of a veritable state-sponsored genocide where till date we have got almost no justice. What we are witnessing now is an epidemic, a normalisation of mob lynching as a national sport being played out round the year across the country where any citizen could be encircled and killed on any pretext, with Muslims, Dalits, poor women and known dissenting voices being the softest and most lynchable targets. And this mob is not operating in a vacuum, it is operating with full assurance of impunity for we have a government that both facilitates and felicitates lynching.
What Rajnath Singh told Parliament did not convey any assurance to stop mob lynching, rather it amounted to a spine-chilling threat where we are just expected to keep counting the lynch victims till some statistical parity is achieved with 1984. No wonder, soon after the Parliament debate we had another brutal incident of lynching in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, with Modi Minister Meghwal describing the growing incidence of lynching cases as a reaction to Modi’s increasing popularity, apparently trying to suggest that the lynching cases are being blown out of proportion to defame Modi!
Reassuringly for India and Indian democracy, the people are not taking things lying down. Even as Parliament was debating the no-confidence motion, thousands of peasants from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana passed their own no-confidence motion against the Modi government outside on Parliament Street, calling the bluff of Modi’s MSP grandiloquence. On the same day the workers of Delhi were also on strike, marching on the streets demanding minimum wages, confirmed jobs and social security. As the stage is set for the forthcoming electoral showdown, the country must get ready to deliver another 1977-type verdict to end the disaster called the Modi regime.