United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) friend-turned-foe Trinamool Congress (TMC) did a U-turn today and threw in its lot with the UPA on the Parliamentary motion on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.
TMC leader Sudip Bandyopadhya’s response to reporters after the all-party meeting today smacked of vengeance for the Opposition. “The Opposition missed the bus. The TMC had given (them) a golden opportunity to throw out the UPA through the no-confidence motion, but the Opposition (BJP and the Left) did not support it. Now the Opposition is going around with a begging bowl asking for voting under rule 184,” he said. The TMC has made it clear that they will not be demanding a discussion with voting.
Congress sources said till about noon today, the TMC’s stand was not known on the voting after discussion issue. But the TMC’s decision at the meeting, to not insist on voting under Rule 184, but “to leave it to the Speaker under which rule the discussion be held” came as a huge relief to the Congress-led UPA.
Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit promptly declared, “A majority of the parties have decided to let the Speaker take the decision under which rule the discussion under FDI should be held. We now have about 315 MPs who have this view.” However, UPA ally Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam still has not made its stand clear and “expressed concerns” on FDI in retail, which is likely to be addressed at tomorrow’s UPA allies meeting.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main Opposition party, and its allies total up to 151 MPs. Even if the 24 MPs of the Left parties are taken, it would make only 189, far short of the simple majority of 272 in the 545-member House.
The TMC’s turnaround is also being seen as the compulsions of the Mamata Banerjee-led party in West Bengal that do not allow it to be seen voting on the same lines as its arch rival, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M). On the other hand, siding with the BJP would end up endangering TMC’s massive Muslim vote bank.
The most interesting defence of the new stance of TMC, which till recently was calling for voting against the government on everything, including FDI in retail, came from the party’s representative at the all-party meeting, who opened his statement saying the TMC was “not a B team of the Congress”. This got a quick riposte from CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, “You don’t want voting on FDI in retail? Then you are a B team of the Congress.”
According to TMC sources, the fear of being isolated combined with the need to be differentiated both from the BJP and the Left parties made it change its mind.
There were also talks in political circles of the role played Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath having played a crucial role in making the TMC do a rethink on its earlier stand. Incidentally, Nath and Banerjee share good relations dating back to the time when they were in the Youth Congress. Nath has spent a considerable part of his life in Kolkata.
While the Congress was unwilling to shed any light on what had transpired between the two parties, there was a verbal spat between TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma on the FDI issue, soon after the Lok Sabha was adjourned this morning. TMC had been raising slogans against FDI in the House, which led to an argument between Sharma and the TMC MP, with both accusing each other of being “less than civilised.” Others had to intervene to calm the two. Interestingly, this ill will, did not seem to transfer itself to the all-party meet soon after at 1 pm. The sudden bonhomie between the two parties led a Congress leader to chuckle, “ It seems almost like a pre-TMC UPA,” he said.