The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coordination committee was set up due to pressure from within its constituents, but the Congress-led coalition now intends to use the forum to thrash out crucial contentious issues, starting with foreign direct investment FDI in multi-brand retail. The second committee meeting, to be held on the last Friday of this month, is likely to see some heated exchanges, as the partners are divided over this issue. While the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is opposed to it, other allies like the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) are in favour of it. The first UPA coordination committee meet was held earlier this week, on the opening day of Parliament. The committee, which has representatives from every alliance partner in the government (NCP, TMC, RLD and DMK), is chaired by UPA Chairperson and Congress President, Sonia Gandhi. The Congress’ core group members, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, home minister, finance minister and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, are members .
With FDI in multi-brand retail on the agenda, the UPA is conscious that Pawar is already on board. NCP senior leader Tariq Anwar, speaking to Business standard, said, “We are supporting FDI in multi-brand retail. Of course, we will want to make sure that the interests of farmers and small retailers are protected.” Another ally supporting the UPA on this contentious issue is the Ajit Singh-led RLD.
Ajit Singh and Pawar have also been interacting with each other to remove the roadblocks to FDI in multi-brand retail.
Speaking to Business Standard, Ajit Singh said, “There are several misconceptions about the issue. First, that small shops will be forced to shut and farmers’ interests will be threatened. This is not true. Large retailers like Walmart can only operate in big cities, and they will need large space and so they will be located far away from the city centre. They cannot replace small neighbourhood shops.” Ajit Singh says FDI in multi-brand retail will not harm the farming community, which forms a large chunk of the RLD votebank. Instead, it would help the community. He, however, says, “I want a model contract to be drawn up by the agriculture ministry to protect the interests of farmers.”
Elucidating, Singh says big stores will be entering into contract farming and this will help improve the quality of products, set up of cold storage facilities, and bringing down prices. “The issue is being politicised and, hence, the misconceptions,” says Ajit Singh.
TMC’s opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail is well known. However, the UPA seems to push for it once again, as the ultimate decision for implementing it will be taken by the states. According to the UPA rationale, states like TMC-ruled West Bengal need not implement it in their state, but the states that are keen to bring in FDI in multi-brand retail should be allowed to go ahead with it. The Centre would only create an enabling legislation to open the doors for FDI in the sector.