Unable to shake off a reputation as a narrow, rabble-rousing movement with a vision for India that threatens Muslims and other minority groups, the Hindu nationalists who took power less than two weeks ago acknowledged on Monday that they face inevitable defeat in a parliamentary confidence vote today.
“Democracy is a game of numbers, and the numbers are not on our side,” said Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is expected to resign as prime minister immediately after the parliamentary vote.
A new prime minister, almost certainly H.D. Deve Gowda, leader of an alliance of centrist and leftist parties known as the United Front, is likely to be appointed within hours of the vote.
The countdown to the nationalists’ ouster began in a parliamentary debate that offered cheer to many in a country that has rarely faced a more uncertain political situation.
Though stormy, the debate was threaded with impassioned speeches in defense of India’s traditions of religious and cultural tolerance, which many here saw as threatened when the Hindu nationalists emerged from an inconclusive election this month with the largest bloc of seats in Parliament, then seized an offer to form a minority government.
Almost all of the condemnation of the nationalists came from members of Parliament who are members of India’s Hindu majority, which accounts for about 700 million of the country’s 930 million people.
Palliappan Chidambaram, commerce minister in the Congress Party government, which was routed in the election, described the nationalists’ brief rule as “a hasty, greedy usurpation of power.”
He added: “If you are illiberal, nonsecular, and exclusionary, and if you have won only 20 percent of the vote and 30 percent of the seats in Parliament, then our parliamentary tradition requires that you go.”
If defeated today, the nationalists will have held power for 13 days, making them by far the shortest-lived of the 11 governments that have ruled India since independence in 1947.
Led by Vajpayee, a moderate who has said that he would as soon spend his days writing Hindi poetry as engage in the turmoil of Indian politics, the nationalists used their time in office to distance themselves from many of the policies opponents have described as demagogic and hostile to India’s mosaic of minority groups, particularly the 120 million Muslims.
But the attempt to lure support from among more than a dozen parties that were arrayed against the nationalists in the new Parliament failed, with not a single member in the 545-seat legislature agreeing to break ranks with his party and align with the nationalists.
Many who spoke in the parliamentary debate described as deceitful the nationalists’ attempts to present themselves as moderates. “You are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Chidambaram said.