NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi defeated a no confidence motion on Friday brought by a robust opposition, and the heated debate was seen as setting the battle-lines for the 2019 elections.

Of the 451 Lok Sabha MPs present and voting, Mr Modi gathered an overwhelming 325 votes while the opposition got 126 MPs supporting the trust motion that was initiated by the Telugu Desam party of Andhra Pradesh.

The party recently broke away from the Modi-led coalition, but it is also traditionally critical of the Congress party.

Mr Gandhi in an unusually fiery speech directed his vitriol at Mr Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, accusing them of helping an inexperienced businessman in clinching the French Rafale warplanes deal at a higher cost than the one negotiated by the Manmohan Singh government.

Mr Gandhi accused Mr Modi of looking on while the mobs went about killing Muslims and Dalits with impunity. Women had become unsafe as never before with incidents of rape and related violence spreading fast across the country.

He also accused Mr Modi of sitting on a swing with Chinese President Xi Jinpeng while Chinese troops were patrolling inside Indian territory.

“You can abuse me and call me pappu (a child) but I don’t harbour any hatred for you.

I want to bring out the human goodness in you,” he told Mr Modi, before walking across the aisle and hugging the surprised prime minister.

Mr Modi slammed Mr Gandhi for being in a hurry to occupy his seat. He defended a surgical strike inside Azad Kashmir, which Pakistan says never took place.

Mr Gandhi didn’t mention the incident, but Mr Modi accused the Congress of abusing Indian soldiers by denying the strike.

“What came from the opposition was sheer arrogance, the only thing they said was Modi hatao.” Mr Modi said. “If Congress comes to power in 2019, I will become the Prime Minister,” Mr Modi quoted Rahul Gandhi and asked, “Then what will happen to the people of the country.”

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018