There was never an iota of doubt that the no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government initiated by the estranged BJP ally, the Telugu Desam, and supported vociferously by the Congress and many other opposition parties would fall flat. The likely defeat ofthe motion will re-emphasise the much-known fact that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that the BJP leads is well ahead of an artificially-welded but leaderless and directionless Opposition challenge. That sway would extend until the next Lok Sabha elections. Spearheading the motion was Jayadev Galla of the Telugu Desam who devoted his entire speech to Andhra Pradesh even beckoning the BJP to concede its long-standing demand for special status for the State and if it did all its ‘sins’ of omission and commission would be forgotten. There was not even a passing reference in his speech to other issues that the rest of the Opposition has been citing against the Modi government. Clearly, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi’sboast that the Opposition would win the no-trust vote had no basis.

As to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s shoot-from-the hip speech, it was as usual a cocktail of unsubstantiated allegations, most of them directly against Prime Minister Narendra Modi who he childishly kept repeating lacked the courage to look him straight in his eye. Rahul’s unorthodox step of going across to hug Modi after his (Rahul’s) speech in dramatic fashion fooled no one about his magnanimity as he winked to a fellow MP after getting back to his seat. The facade of a man who has no rancour and ill-will stood unmasked. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan later pulled up Rahul for his uncalled-for behaviour in the House. Rahul’s charge that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman had lied that the Indians and the French had a secret deal not to disclose details of the Rafale jets purchase was demolished when the Minister produced documents to show that there was an agreement between India and France in 2008 to that effect when the Congress was in power. Evidently, Rahul was ill-prepared and was parroting some of the allegations that he had cited in his election speeches without verifying the facts. While the French government has promptly refuted Rahul’s claim, it has caused huge embarrassment to Rahul which he would not acknowledge. Also, for Rahul to say that when he was out of the House during an adjournment that even some BJP members had complimented him for his speech bespoke of lack of maturity.

For the BJP, there were lessons to learn. That the Shiv Sena is an untrustworthy ally was borne out again when, after announcing that it would oppose the Opposition motion and vote for the BJP it chose to abstain after a volte face on the morning of the vote. That the Biju Janata Dal walked out after a brief statement made it clear that it could still go either way after the Lok Sabha elections. The AIADMK which has a whopping 37 members in the Lower House continued to be tilted in the BJP’s favour without unambiguously announcing that it is on BJP’s side. That it said it would vote with the BJP but was not supportive of it during its participation in the debate was an index of its confused state. The NCP is well and truly on Congress’ side as the debate indicated. It was amply clear that with less than a year left before the general elections, the Opposition lacked an indisputable leader and a clear national agenda that would find acceptability across the country. It is fine for Rahul Gandhi to lead Opposition campaigns on specific issues, but there is no consensus on him as the candidate of much of the Opposition. On the other hand, there is no dissent on Narendra Modi’s name in the BJP. When it comes to the crunch how the leadership issue would be resolved is a moot point.

Clearly, the BJP came out stronger on the perception stakes. Sadly, the quality of debates has been deteriorating over the years and was uninspiring this time too with a few exceptions, the most notable of which was Narendra Modi whose oratorical skills and political savviness are unassailable even if his implementation of policies may sometimes be suspect.

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