Congress President Rahul Gandhi hugs Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament during discussions on the No-Confidence Motion on Friday. YouTube

Indian National Congress’ chief Rahul Gandhi hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi – his rival – during debate on a no-confidence motion against the National Democratic Alliance government in the Indian Parliament on Friday.

Modi was taken aback by Gandhi’s surprise move initially but later welcomed the move with a smile and a handshake. The whole house burst out with laughter at the Congress leader’s action, which was unusual for the parliament. The hug was preceded by Gandhi arguing that although he is hated and ridiculed by members of the ruling party, there is no such feeling in him and his party .

The no-confidence motion, moved by the opposition on Thursday in the Lower House of the parliament, is the first in 15 years and cannot bring down the government because of its greater number of seats. But the outcome could set the tone ahead of the general election next year.

The opposition aims to raise crucial issues with regard to governance and test the unity of opposition parties through the move. However, the debate has been chaotic with arguments often getting drowned out by loud MPs. The house had to be briefly adjourned due to the loud remarks on both sides.

During the debate, Congress has slammed the BJP for its handling of relations with China, plus farm loans among other issues. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi made a strong argument on the floor. He said the BJP government had written off loans for rich people while distressed farmers were denied a waiver on their loans. He was referring to public sector banks having written off bad loans worth Rs 2,419 billion between April 2014 and September 2017.

A trust vote will be held after the vote – later today – when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party will have to show it has majority support.

A no-confidence motion is moved against the Council of Ministers by a member of parliament if he or she deems the government’s performance and actions to be unsatisfactory. If the motion is accepted by a majority in the house, then the Council of Ministers have to resign and the government will fall.

However, the numbers are in favor of the prime minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling National Democratic Alliance has 314 members in a house with 534 MPs. The BJP alone has 274 members, including the Speaker, which is above the majority mark of 268.

Adding to the opposition’s woes, the Naveen Patnaik-led regional party Biju Janta Dal (BJD) staged a walkout right before the start of the debate. That made it easier for the ruling party to achieve the majority mark.

A Biju Janta Dal leader told Economic Times that the current BJP-led government and the previous Congress-led government had both done ‘injustice’ to Odisha, where the party rules.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s estranged ally Shiv Sena with its 18 members and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) with its 37 MPs in the house are also expected to abstain from the trust vote. An AIADMK leader said the party would not support the motion as its rival DMK is leading it along with the Congress. Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul told news agency ANI that the party was “boycotting” the motion. With these three parties missing, the strength of the house will substantially be reduced.

House Speaker Sumitra Mahajan spoke on Thursday after allowing the no-confidence debate, listing opposition members who had moved similar motions and declared that the motion put forward by Telugu Desam Party’s Kesineni Srinivas would go ahead.

Telegu Desam Party pulled out of the alliance with BJP in March in a protest over the government’s decision to not grant a special package to the southern state Andhra Pradesh. In addition to this issue, other parties backed the motion against the government on matters like cow-related vigilantism, mob lynchings, violence against women and minorities, dilution of the Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes Act, the farmers’ crisis and so on.

But with a two-thirds majority in the house Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ananth Kumar said the BJP-led government was ready to face the no-confidence motion.

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