No-confidence motion: Rahul first pinches then hugs Modi



NEW DELHI: Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi accused the government of failing to live up to its promises as the Indian Parliament on Friday debated a no-confidence motion moved by the opposition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, accused the government of creating only 400,000 new jobs against the 20 million promised in a year. He accused Modi of favouring big business houses in defence and business deals at the expense of poor people.

That angered lawmakers in Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, leading the speaker to briefly adjourn the house proceedings to cool tempers. Gandhi later resumed his speech and at the end of it unexpectedly walked to where Modi was sitting and shook hands and hugged him.

The no-confidence motion holds no threat to Modi’s 4-year-old government, which has a clear majority in the powerful 545-member lower house of parliament, controlling more than 300 seats.

The opposition apparently decided to test the strength of Modi’s government following estrangement with some of Modi’s allies. Two of them, Shiv Sena and Biju Janata Dal, decided to abstain from voting to express their unhappiness with Modi’s policies.

Opposition leaders, however, hope to reap political gains ahead of national elections early next year. They also accuse the government of failing to check rising violence against women, minority Muslims and Dalits.

Modi is expected to respond to opposition accusations in his speech ahead of the vote later Thursday.

Gandhi accused the Modi government of buying 36 Rafael fighter aircraft from France at a highly inflated price. Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman immediately refuted his claim.

Textiles Minister Smriti Irani accused Gandhi of indulging in rhetoric and asked him back up his accusations with proof. Another minister, Kiran Rijijju, dismissed Gandhi’s speech as “a political stunt.'”

As parliament debated the no-confidence motion, farmers marched in the Indian capital demanding loan waivers and fair prices for their produce and other government help as India’s agriculture sector struggles from years of declining earnings.