Like many of his party colleagues, BJP’s once-upon-a-time prime ministerial aspirant L K Advani didn’t miss the opportunity to be on prime time television the other day and wax eloquent against the 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and diesel price increase. Even if one ignores Advani’s absurd logic, this must be the mother of political doublespeak.
Wasn’t he the leading light of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance that had first proposed 100 per cent FDI in retail a decade ago before diluting it to 26 per cent in its election manifesto in 2004? Wasn’t he the same man who not so long ago used to begin his speech at every election rally in Gujarat by saying that the prosperity of a state should be determined by how much foreign investment is flowing into that state? Unless he is suffering from amnesia, Advani can be accused of the worst form of hypocrisy because he is opposing the diesel price hike even though fuel prices had gone up 35 per cent during the six years of NDA rule.
But it’s not Advani alone. The last few days have presented the curious spectacle of politically and ideologically diverse politicians ranting against each other, apparently oblivious to the irony of the difference in their positions when they were in power and out of it. We will come to Congress’ doublespeak later.
Advani’s the then senior colleague in the government, Jaswant Singh, is also isn’t far behind. In his many media interviews at that time, Singh had repeatedly said that opening the retail sector was a part of the agenda and NDA was committed to it as “plenty of money is waiting to come”. BJP has subsequently sought to explain the party’s volte face on the issue by saying there is no bar against wisdom. But such a response is only to be expected from a party that has changed its colours at the drop of a hat. Consider this: BJP’s stand has changed from “we need a complete swadeshi model” in 1991 to “allow FDI but minimise dependence on foreign saving” in 1996 to “India can’t do without FDI in 1999” to FDI-yes-but-only-if-we-are-in power thereafter.
In 2004, the NDA government suggested complete financial sector reform. However, seven years before that -- in August 1997 to be precise -- then Finance Minister P Chidambaram of the United Front government had to withdraw a Bill from the Lok Sabha on the insurance regulatory authority and FDI in insurance, due to stiff resistance from the BJP. Just three years later, the NDA opened up the insurance sector by allowing 26 per cent FDI. There’s more. In a media interview on June 29 this year, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha categorically opposed increasing FDI in insurance beyond 26 per cent. Just a few days later (in July), the same man gave another interview where he said “we will certainly support 49 per cent FDI in insurance if the UPA government came out with a concrete proposal”. In effect, Sinha was talking about supporting an initiative taken by the NDA itself when it was in power.
But the proposal did not get through then for one simple reason – Congress, which was the main opposition party, had then opposed the proposal! This goes on to show how Congress has also given a tough competition to BJP on doublespeak. The surest example of this is the 2002 letter written by the then Opposition leader of the Rajya Sabha who “assured” a Mumbai-based trade body that the NDA government would not allow FDI in retail trade. The leader was none else than Manmohan Singh. Dr Singh’s senior party colleagues had also repeatedly mentioned in several public forums that allowing FDI in retail would be an “anti-national” step.
The wheel has turned full circle, but one thing is certain: Politicians in India are indeed the champions in the craft of speaking in two voices. The circus just goes on…