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Shifting sands of Indian politics were in evidence on Wednesday as the Centre announced easing FDI (foreign direct investment) rules for several sectors, including construction and single brand retail.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has "hypocritically reversed it position" on the issue as it was opposed to FDI in retail trade when in the opposition.
The Sangh Parivar affiliates, the likes of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Laghu Udyog Bharati, outfits that have consistently opposed FDI in most sectors, said they needed more time to study the cabinet decisions. Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), another Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, affiliate, said it opposed the move.
The most interesting, however, was the reaction of the Congress party. It fished out a booklet the BJP had published against FDI in retail trade when that party was in the opposition, and the Congress-led UPA government had attempted to relax FDI rules in retail trade in 2011.
"Deception, dishonesty and dodgy-ness of BJP leadership unmasked on FDI in retail," Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted. The Congress circulated the BJP booklet, in which the BJP had said FDI in retail will lead to job losses and displace more people than it would employ. In that booklet, the BJP had also pointed to global experience of how companies like Walmart destroyed local manufacturing in countries that opened FDI in retail. Congress leaders said the BJP had then opposed all FDI, both in single as well as multi-brand retail.
Intriguingly, the Congress has made a similar about turn on the issue of FDI. This is what the Congress manifesto for the just concluded Gujarat assembly polls said: "The Gujarat model of development with focus on big factories, big projects, FDI has been a top down approach. This development has ignored the people of Gujarat, the farmers, SMEs (small and medium enterprises), women, students, traders."
The Congress' Gujarat manifesto further stated, under the section dealing with 'industries, infrastructure and fisheries', that the party "will review the FDI policy with an objective to protect the interest of the small traders and retailers against multi-national corporations with 100% FDI".
In this context, the statements of BJP's top leadership, when it was in the opposition, also make for interesting reading. According to the Congress, Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, said: "UPA is a government of the foreigners, by the foreigners and for the foreigners."
Modi, according to the Congress, also said: "I don't know what the PM (Manmohan Singh) is doing. Small businessmen will be forced to down their shutters now."
Congress also highlighted a statement by Rajnath Singh, among others, which suggests have life has come full circle for those who were then in government and now in opposition. "See the Congress manifesto. It says we will give jobs to people from each family. In 2009, they said one crore jobs will be given. Has it happened?"Rajnath Singh, currently the home minister, had asked then.
About Wednesday's cabinet decisions, the CPI (M) politbureau said the step to liberalise FDI in retail trade will have harmful consequences for domestic retail traders and shopkeepers.
"This measure indicates that the Modi government is moving towards allowing FDI in multi-brand retail trade. The BJP, while in opposition, was opposed to the entry of foreign companies into retail trade. Now being in the government, it has hypocritically reversed its position," the party said.
On Air India, it said the government was now moving towards handing over Air India to a foreign airline. It said the government should heed the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture which has asked the government to review its decision on privatization of Air India and provide five years to revive the airline with its debt written off.
RSS economic think tank Swadeshi Jagaran Manch convener Ashwani Mahajan said that any FDI will be opposed by the Manch. "The need is for governments to come out of this GDP-centric, FDI-centric economic model, and move towards policies that truly lead to generation of jobs," Mahajan, who was one of the economists to attend the meeting with the PM at NITI Aayog on Wednesday evening, said.