Who says we don’t have the numbers?

Raman Swamy

“Who says we don’t have the numbers?” said Sonia Gandhi when a reporter asked her why the Opposition was going ahead with the non-confidence motion against the Modi government despite not having the numbers.

It was a delicious moment.  A touch unreal perhaps, with a bit of humour, but intriguing all the same.  

Answering a question with a question can sometimes be very effective and even devastating - especially if the answer is totally unexpected. 

“Who says we don’t have the numbers?” -  It seems to fly in the face of logic.  It appears contrary to known facts.  It sounds wholly divorced from the ground situation - or at least the irrefutable reality on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

Somehow, however, thanks to television cameras freezing the moment in time and social media provoked into heated exchanges, the question that Sonia Gandhi posed has evoked curiousity and made many people think of certain dimensions of the current political crisis which have largely been taken for granted or brushed under the carpet of national discourse.

Firstly, Sonia Gandhi – despite the never-ending obsession of BJP trolls about her ‘Place of Birth’ -- knows as much about Indian politics and the Indian parliamentary system as just about any other living political leader.  She has seen many a Trust Vote at close quarters in the last two decades alone -- not to mention her proximity to two earlier Prime Ministers as daughter-in-law and as wife.

The point being that it was the original question put by the journalist that can be described as inane, facetious or rude. The reply given by the longest serving president of the Congress Party was none of the above. It was probably a polite way of avoiding answering an obvious question that could well have not been asked at all. Equally likely, it was an answer intended to underscore several other burning issues of the day. 

The seven simple words “Who says we don’t have the numbers?” stimulate the thought-processes more than perhaps any other reply could have. Now that it has virtually become the “political quote of the day”, a second glance at each of the words seems to reveal deeper meanings. 

Does the word “Who” –refer to only to the questioner?  Or to the Media at large, already focusing on the outcome of the Trust Vote instead of examining the major issues that Opposition participants in the debate are planning to raise? A Media which has failed to play its role as an impartial chronicler of our times and has during the past four years and more been more partisan to the ruling Establishment than even the Establishment’s own spin doctors. 

Or does the Who refer to the ruling party’s spokesmen and leaders?  Of course, Parliamentary Minister Ananth Kumar will harp on the numbers. That’s his job. And of course the 2014 elections did give the BJP and its NDA allies a two-thirds majority – that’s why they are holding the reins of power.  

Isn’t it also true that the numbers have both increased as well as decreased in recent months?  Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) joining the ruling alliance have added to the numbers, just as the exit of Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has caused a drop in the numbers. 

Isn’t that what coalition politics is all about? Do parties in power start and end their terms with the same number of elected representatives on their side? In just the last two days, a two-time former BJP MP has announced his resignation from the party and even though he used to be in the Upper House the point is that numbers are never static.   

Who knows whether one or two or even a dozen disgruntled ruling alliance MPs cross-vote or abstain when the no-confidence motion is put to the vote? Every such case would be replete with political significance - the undercurrent of self-doubt, despair and even fear among NDA partner parties is there for all to see. The daily diatribes by the Shiv Sena, for example, is there for all to hear. 

The same is the case, though less palpable, among quite a few second rung BJP MPs too, who are wracked by conscience because the atmosphere of violence and intolerance shredding the fabric of society under Modi-Shah rule.   Most such parliamentarians are also worried about whether they will be given party tickets in the next elections and are therefore uncertain about their own political future. Very few have gathered the courage to express their apprehensions in public but there can be little doubt that they have been articulating their deep distress in private conversations. 

Even assuming that it is unlikely that any of them will defy the party Whip at the No-Trust vote, the process of being witness to the government being hauled over the coals on many issues could strengthen their own resolve to stand up and be counted in the coming months.

Thanks to the live Television coverage of the entire Lok Sabha proceedings during the No-Confidence debate and voting on Friday, the people at large - the much-talked-about “aam admi” as well the city elites and intellectuals – will be able to listen to the detailed charge-sheet against Modi Raj. This is important because of the blatant bias the mainstream media during the past four years. 

Many are not even aware of the subtle ways in which Opposition voices have been ignored, suppressed or distorted. But, as Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told media persons: “Even inside the House, Opposition speakers used to have greater share in the coverage. But, today when we stand to raise our issues, the camera does not turn to us.”

During the day-long debate on Friday, however, the in-House cameras will perforce have to remain turned towards every Member who speaks, whether he or she belongs to this one side of the aisle or the other. That is what the No-Confidence Motion is all about. Who knows what the public will be able to hear and who knows what the numbers will be at the time of the vote?

Jul 19, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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