Going through the motion(s)

Kenneth Bo Nielsen, SUM, UiO

Mamata Banerjee

A no confidence motion against the UPA government may be in the making. It may eventually never materialise, and even if it did, it would not succeed in bringing down the government. But it may offer some clues about likely political realignments on the road the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The no confidence motion is being contemplated by the Trinamul Congress (TMC) who parted ways with the UPA not long ago. Since then, the TMC has done its utmost to embarrass the incumbent government and its main constituent, the Congress, in particular. The confrontation has largely played itself out on the TMC’s home turf in West Bengal, but party supremo Mamata Banerjee now appears to have taken the battle to the national capital, where her 19 MPs constitute a not insignificant presence in the Lok Sabha.

Unsurprisingly, Mamata Banerjee says that she wants to bring down the UPA because of its anti-people policies, including its decision to allow foreign direct investments (FDI) in multi-brand retail. Speaking to the media a few days ago, Banerjee threatened to move the noconfidence motion on the very first day of the Lok Sabha’s winter session, beginning on 22 November. The trouble is, one needs the backing of at least 54 MPs to move a no confidence motion, so the TMC leader has been scanning the terrain in search of allies. But although there is no dearth of opposition to the UPA, most parties have proven reluctant to join the Mamata bandwagon. This includes her arch enemies on the left, who, although they too are strongly opposed to FDI, feel that a no confidence motion would be a waste of time. CPM leader Prakash Karat said that because the UPA would easily survive a trust vote with the support of, for instance, fence-sitters like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, a no confidence motion would ‘not be helpful in putting the government in the dock’. The response from the main opposition party, the BJP, has been equally lukewarm. Party leader Balbir Punj early on said that his party welcomed the plan to move a no confidence motion. But senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi have been much more noncommittal on whether BJP would support the motion – only after having ‘carefully checked all the strategies vis-a-vis the strength of our opposition’ would the BJP decide whether to commit on the issue. The most recent reports seem to indicate that the BJP is not inclined to back the motion. The BJP (and the left, for that matter) probably feels that if a no trust motion fails on the floor of the Lok Sabha, it can be seen as legitimising the actions and policy decisions of the UPA, including its recent controversial decisions on economic reforms and FDI.

In other words, the TMC has received very scant support for its proposal. Most parties have kept mum to the greatest extent possible, possibly hoping that the whole business would go away. The only overt signs of support have emanated from the CPI, who said that they would support any no confidence motion against the incumbent government regardless of its place of origin. On the other hand, they stressed that they did not see it as their business to ensure the necessary backing for the motion to be brought before the Lok Sabha in the first place. And in any event, given the CPI’s scant presence in the Lok Sabha, the party’s support would only take Mamata’s tally to 23. The AIADMK also responded positively, but even with their backing the 54 MP mark would still be some way away.

So one may legitimately ask: why did the TMC go through all these motions to table a no confidence motion predestined to fail? Why talk of bringing down the government when one cannot even mobilise 10 percent of the Lok Sabha behind this demand? Did Mamata Banerjee simply fail to gauge the mood in the Lok Sabha? What is a pompous attempt by a politician with an inflated sense of self-esteem to establish herself as a leader of national import that so embarrassingly backfired? Maybe. But even if her no confidence motion falls flat, she will have proven a few points nonetheless. Firstly, and unlike the rattled Congress and the nervous BJP, who has still not settled its leadership issue, she is not afraid of facing the electorate. She believes, and probably rightly so, that her party will emerge even stronger if fresh elections were called today. Secondly, she was won acclaim from influential anti-corruption crusaders like Prashant Bhushan and yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who publicly proclaimed his support for the no-confidence motion, adding that ‘all those political parties that aim to work in cause of the commoners’ should also support it. And thirdly, she has scored another victory in her ongoing game of one-upmanship against the CPM. Thus, TMC leader Saugata Roy could proclaim that ‘if CPM does not support our motion, it will mean that its opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail is false’. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee managed to politely taunt the left by saying that if the CPM for some reason had ‘reservations’ about supporting the motion because it was brought by the TMC, the CPM could be allowed to table it instead, and the TMC would support it. Her point, again, seems to be to show to the Bengali electorate that the CPM is not all that interested in opposing FDI and fighting a corrupt UPA. Nor is the BSP and BJP, for that matter. So when the elections do come, who can claim sole credit for having been the only political force to have made a genuine effort to oust the UPA from power during its second stint in office? Why, Mamata Banerjee of course.

1 Comment on Going through the motion(s)

  1. Arild Engelsen Ruud // 20. november 2012 at 19:16 // Svar

    Interesting reading of Mamata B. and her motives. I would just like to add one aspect, which might shed light on the other parties’ reluctance: as I read the newspaper reports, if a no confidence motion is brought up for vote, and voted down, then another cannot be brought for another six months. I may be wrong here though, and would like someone to correct me if I am. So why would the opposition hesitate to bring a no confidence motion now? Because it would deprive them of a tool that might come in useful at a later point.

    This does not detract from Kenneth’s insightful reading of West Bengal politics. By urging for a no confidence vote, she is able to portray the CPI-M as soft on an increasingly unpopular government. The CPI-M leadership’s reading of the finer aspects of parliamentary politics is probably lost on a large section of the West Bengal electorate.

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