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Will it Make a Dent?

The no-confidence motion moved by Gaurav Gogoi is bound to fail as the NDA members are more than twice that of the Opposition. But it is an attempt to put the government on the mat over Manipur

By Vivek K Agnihotri

On July 26, 2023, when the Lok Sabha met at noon, the Speaker informed the House that he had received a notice for a motion from Gaurav Gogoi, MP, and Deputy Leader of the Congress Party. The notice stated: “This House expresses want of confidence in the council of ministers.” The Speaker requested Gogoi to seek the permission of the House for moving the motion.

After Gogoi sought the permission, Speaker Om Birla asked members in favour of granting permission to admit the motion to stand up in their places for a head count. MPs belonging to the Opposition bloc INDIA, including Congress parliamentary party chief Sonia Gandhi, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, DMK’s TR Baalu and NCP leader Supriya Sule, among others, stood up for the headcount. Om Birla then admitted the motion of no-confidence.

In a parliamentary democracy, a government can be in power only if it commands a majority in the directly elected House. Article 75(3) of the Constitution embodies this tenet by specifying that the council of ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People (Lok Sabha). Collective responsibility is also assured by the enforcement of two principles. First, no person is nominated to the council of ministers except on the advice of the prime minister; and secondly, no person is retained as a member of the council if the prime minister demands his dismissal. The essence of collective responsibility is that the minister is free to express his dissent when a policy is in the stage of discussion, but after the decision is taken, every minister is expected to stand by it without any reservation.

Collective responsibility implies that if the government has lost the confidence of the House, it must resign or have the House dissolved. However, resignation or dissolution would follow only where the defeat implies loss of confidence. What the government will treat as a matter of substantial importance on which to resign or to dissolve the House is primarily for it to decide. The Opposition can test the opinion of the House by demanding a vote on the motion of no-confidence.

In pursuance of the constitutional provision, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha state that a motion expressing want of confidence in the council of ministers may be moved subject to the following conditions:

(a) leave to make the motion shall be asked for by the member when called by the Speaker 

(b) the member asking for leave shall, by 10.00 hours on that day give to the Secretary-General a written notice of the motion which he proposes to move.

If the Speaker is of opinion that the motion is in order, he shall read it to the House and request those members who are in favour of leave being granted to rise in their places. And if not less than 50 members rise, the Speaker shall declare that leave is granted and that the motion will be taken up on such day, not being more than ten days from the date on which the leave is asked for, as the Speaker may appoint. If leave is granted, the Speaker may, after considering the state of business in the House, allot a day or days or part of a day for discussion of the motion.  

Discussion on a motion of no-confidence is not merely confined to the grounds mentioned in the notice of the motion. Normally, the matters referred to by the mover of the motion are discussed, but it is open to any member to raise any other matter he likes during the course of the discussion. Even matters on which separate discussion has taken place in the same session can be brought up if it is shown there has been a failure on the part of the government after the last discussion took place.

After the members have spoken on the motion, the prime minister replies to the charges levelled against the government. The mover of the motion has the right of reply. The Speaker then, at the appointed hour on the allotted day or the last of the allotted days, as the case may be, after the debate has concluded, put every question necessary to determine the decision of the House on the motion. 

Given the fact that the strength of the NDA (334) is more than twice that of the Opposition, now called INDIA (142), the present no-confidence motion is bound to fail the numbers test. The Opposition bloc (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) leaders argue that they will win the battle of perception by cornering the government on the Manipur issue and forcing the prime minister to speak on the matter in Parliament, which he may or may not. Technically, law and order is a matter to be dealt with by the home minister, who may, in all probability, intervene during the debate.

The no-confidence motion has historically been used as a strategic tool to force a discussion on a certain topic or issue. It was during the third Lok Sabha in 1963 that the first motion of no-confidence was moved by Acharya JB Kripalani against the government headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The debate on the motion lasted 21 hours over four days, with 40 MPs participating.

In his reply, Nehru remarked: “A no-confidence motion aims at or should aim at removing the party in government and taking its place. It is clear in the present instance that there was no such expectation or hope. And so the debate, although it was interesting in many ways and, I think profitable too, was a little unreal. Personally, I have welcomed this motion and this debate. I have felt that it would be a good thing if we were to have periodical tests of this kind.”

Since the coming into force of the Indian Constitution, there have been 27 no-confidence motions moved in Parliament (not counting the present one), with the last one being in 2018. Out of these 27, no less than 15 were moved against the governments headed by Indira Gandhi, from time to time. None of these 27 motions could be carried. However, in 1979, a no-confidence motion was moved against Morarji Desai’s government and although the debate remained inconclusive, Desai resigned from his post. This was the only time a government fell following a no-confidence motion, even as there was no voting on the motion.

This is the second time that the NDA government is facing a no-confidence motion since it assumed office in 2014. The first no-trust motion was moved on July 20, 2018. The NDA scored a thumping win with 325 MPs voting against the motion and only 126 supporting it. The NDA was returned to power in the following general elections held in 2019. During his reply on that occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had prophesied that the Opposition may move a no-confidence motion in 2023 to facilitate the victory of his party in 2024.

Talk about being confident. 

—The writer is former Secretary-General, Rajya Sabha

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