Monday, July 21, 2008

Why did UPA want a "Confidence" vote?

Tomorrow is D-day. We will know whether the UPA government stays or goes.

I am little puzzled, though, as to the rationale for a "confidence" vote in parliament. As far as my understanding goes, a party or a coalition is required to prove its majority only when it stakes its claim to government and there are doubts that it has the necessary numbers. Then, the president may ask the leader of the coalition to demonstrate its majority on the floor of parliament.

At any other time, it is for the opposition to move a "no confidence" motion. In the present instance, after the Left parties withdrew support, the onus was on them or the other Opposition parties to move a no-confidence motion. At least in constitutional terms, it is not obvious that Congress and the UPA needed to seek a vote of "confidence".

The PM assured parliament that he would seek its approval for the nuclear deal. The right course for the UPA would have been to table a motion on the nuclear deal and seek parliament's approval. The UPA should have done this before approaching the IAEA with the safeguards agreement. Even if the motion had been defeated, the government could have carried on- only a defeat on a no-confidence motion requires the government to quit. The Left would not have had a problem with the UPA government even if the motion was defeated- after all, its opposition to UPA centres on the nuclear deal.

So, why did the PM and the UPA not do the obvious thing? Why seeek a vote of confidence? Was it because they feared that a motion on the nuclear deal itself may not have a great chance of going through? If so, the only way to ensure the success of the deal would have been to stake the survival of the government itself. Then, all members of the UPA and others as well would have had to choose - between the survival of the government and, perhaps, the present parliament and fresh elections. Confronted with such a stark choice, there was a better chance they would back the government- and the nuclear deal.

If the UPA government survives and goes ahead with the nuclear deal, all this may seem clever politics. But it carries with it a heavy price: a fall in standards in politics to new lows and a badly divided nation. The nation would have been better served had the government done what it had promised- come to parliament solely for its approval of the nuclear deal.

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