India’s Modi government faces no-confidence vote over ethnic clashes

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On 26 July 2023, India’s parliament authorised a no-confidence vote against Narendra Modi’s government by an alliance of opposition parties, to force the prime minister to address in detail concerns about ethnic clashes in a north-eastern state.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a clear majority of 301 members in the 542-seat lower house of parliament, so the no-confidence vote will not impact its stability.

The opposition instead wants to trigger a debate about the violence in remote, BJP-ruled Manipur state, in which more than 130 people have been killed and 60 000 displaced since it began in early May. Approving the opposition motion, lower house speaker, Om Birla, said he would soon decide when the debate and vote would take place.

The ethnic tensions in the small state of 3.2 million people are seen as a rare security and political failure by Modi’s government, which will face a national election by May 2024.

Modi had not commented in public about the violence until last week, when videos showing two women being paraded naked and molested by a mob in Manipur surfaced, sparking national outrage. Modi condemned the mass assault as “shameful” and promised tough action against the perpetrators.

Opposition parties have, however, disrupted the monsoon session of parliament, which began last week, to demand a detailed statement by Modi on Manipur in parliament, followed by a debate.

As head of the government, he will have to respond to the no-confidence motion before it is put to vote. The government has offered a statement from Home Minister Amit Shah, saying internal security is his ministry’s responsibility.

The violence began 3 May, after a court ordered the state government to consider extending special economic benefits and quotas in government jobs and education enjoyed by the tribal Kuki people to the majority Meitei population as well.

Shashi Tharoor, a leader of the main opposition Congress party, said the government must invest time in answering questions about Manipur.

“Everyone knows that Manipur has witnessed horrendous loss of lives in violence, sexual assault and displacement. How can this not be the main agenda?” said Tharoor.