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FDI in retail makes government sweat

UPA trying hard to exclude issue from winter session, fears loss of face if it is voted

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The government is straining every nerve to ensure  a discussion on Foreign Direct Investment () in Retail does not come up in the Winter Session of Parliament under a rule that entails voting.

Top government sources said they were reconciled to a discussion in the and because it is mandatory for the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act () to be tabled in Parliament.

But what the government is worried about is the loss of face and the “moral setback” if the issue is voted.

“There are three people who stand between loss of face for the government because of voting on this issue and a straightforward debate on it. These are the Presiding officers – the Speaker in the Lok Sabha and the Chairman in the Rajya Sabha; and in the Lok Sabha” said a top government source. But they were hoping internal contradictions within the opposition would go in their favour.

“We will discuss with them (Opposition parties) and try and persuade them.” Minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs, Rajiv Shukla said on parliamentary strategy, adding that  that the speaker first needed to admit the motions and this would also involve a discussion with political parties before it made to the house.

The two Presiding Officers will take a view on the rule under which the motion will be permitted for discussion.

The government is fortified with the 21-member (BSP) by its side in the Lok Sabha where even with the entire opposition massing on one side, it has upwards of 300 MPs in a House of 545.

It is not that the government is in any danger of destabilisation on this count. But if the political message goes out from Parliament that three quarters of Parliament is opposed to FDI in retail, it will make the government look as if it is ramming down the throat of India, a decision that Parliament does not approve.

The latest blow came from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, (DMK) whose chief M Karunanidhi told reporters in Chennai that the party would make its stand clear once the motion is moved in Parliament.

CPI senior leader D Raja speaking to Business Standard confirmed that the Left parties were in the process of moving motions - Rule 184 of Lok Sabha’s Rules of Business and Rule 167 in the Rajya Sabha that entail voting after discussion on a matter.

“As Finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee had given a commitment in Parliament that all parties and even chief ministers will be consulted before any decision is taken. What happened to that commitment?”

Raja adds, “Democracy doesn’t mean the ruling party in the government alone, it also means the Opposition as well, so how can they steamroll their decisions even if they are executive decisions.”

All four Left parties CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc met recently and decided on moving the motions in Parliament. D.Raja says, “Morally, the government loses.”  

However, the Left parties were not willing to comment just as yet whether this was a “political convergence” with Opposition BJP and the TMC, but said, “This is an issue which is above politics.  

The Trinamool Congress meanwhile, while clearly not joining forces with its arch rival the Left, has decided to go ahead and move its own separate motion in Parliament on FDI in retail which will entail voting.

Former Rail minister and senior TMC leader Mukul Roy speaking to Business Standard  said, “The government has to face Parliament and see if the majority of the members support its decision on FDI in retail. This is clearly a minority government and it definitely has no mandate in Parliament supporting it on this anti-people decision.” The TMC wants the government to prove its strength through a voting on this issue.

“BJP will strongly oppose the government decision on FDI in in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. This decision is not in the interest of the country,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, chief spokesperson of BJP.     

Prasad elaborated that the main opposition party will discuss its strategy with other members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and also will speak to likeminded political parties that are opposed to implementation of FDI in multi-brand retail. The NDA allies are likely to hold a meeting on November 21, just as day before the winter session is scheduled to commence.     

“In November 2011, the then Finance Minister had announced in the Lok Sabha that a decision on FDI in multi-brand retail will be taken only after consulting all concerned sections. A similar statement was made by the then Commerce Minister in the Rajya Sabha,” Prasad said.

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