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    Posted on 29 November 2011

    FDI controversy paralyses both Houses again

    Indications that government could just agree to a discussion on the issue followed by a vote to break logjam

    Iftikhar Gilani
    New Delhi

    PM Manmohan Singh has said that the FDI decision has been taken in national interest

    The Congress on Tuesday dared the Opposition to debate the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Parliament even as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that it was not a decision taken in haste but in "national interest" after a lot of thought.

    Congress support to FDI in retail trade was seen for the first time after five days of silence when party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the government was ready to discuss it, including issues like price rise and black money, in Parliament, but the Opposition was unrelenting. Asked to comment on Congress MP Sanjay Singh’s statement that the timing of the FDI decision was wrong considering the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Singhvi retorted that the timing showed the government's transparent approach in policy-making.

    As Parliament continued to remain paralysed for the sixth day, Singh pointed out that retail trade was being thrown open to foreign players to help farmers get better crop prices and let the consumer gain as the gap between wholesale and retail business would reduce. He also allayed fears of small retailers that they would be wiped out being unable to compete with the bigwigs. The experience of other countries that allowed FDI in retail was otherwise, he pointed out. The PM added that FDI in retail would create employment opportunities in food processing, transportation, storage and other sectors and usher in arrival of modern technology, which will better lives.

    Referring to the Parliament impasse since start of the winter session, the PM hoped that "some way would be found out" to end the logjam and said that "we will continue attempts" to bring Parliament on track. He also lashed out at the Opposition saying it was doing injustice to the people who sent them to Parliament by not allowing it to function.

    Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who spoke after Singh, however, sent an indirect signal that the party was still not on the same page with the government by not uttering a single word on FDI in retail. The first Congress Parliamentary Party meeting she will be chairing on Wednesday morning since her July surgery may witness fireworks on the FDI issue unless she backs the government.

    Sanjay Singh, a family friend since the days of Rajiv Gandhi, became the first Congress leader to express the unease in the party over the FDI decision. He met Sonia and expressed his reservation. Later, Singh told reporters that he would write to the PM that "this is not the right time to take such a major decision”. He feared it would have a negative effect on the party in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. "There are many MPs who are opposing the decision in their own areas. I think that the timing is wrong to introduce FDI. I am not acting as opposition within the party. I feel that FDI will harm the poor.”

    Meanwhile, Congress managers were busy charting out a way to end the impasse. Earlier, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's all-party meeting failed to break the ice. Subsequently, both Houses were adjourned till 2 PM to let Mukherjee come back after consulting the PM. But the government found the time span too short to take a decision and both the Houses were adjourned for the day. By evening, there were indications that the government could just agree to a discussion on the issue followed by a vote to break the logjam as the Congress core group realised that a climb-down could be needed instead of reversing the decision—the first major economic reform of the UPA government in seven years.

    Floor managers of the Congress got busy to salvage the government's position in the event of an adjournment motion insisted by the united Opposition. The strategy is to sound out the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which support the government from outside but oppose the FDI, to stage a walkout at the crucial stage of voting on the adjournment to save the government from the embarrassment of defeat.

    Party managers do not expect two ruling allies Trinamool Congress and DMK to vote against the government despite their protests against the decision. Therefore, they conveyed to the party leadership on Tuesday night that an adjournment risk could be taken to end the Parliament logjam.

    In a shift from Commerce Minister Anand Sharma's stand on FDI, the government is now stressing that foreign superstores will be mandated to buy 30 per cent of products from small-scale industries though industry federations say it will violate WTO agreements prohibiting any such conditions being clamped on international businesses.

    Senior Union ministers belonging to the Congress like Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Mukul Wasnik and Defence Minister AK Antony are reported to have already opposed the FDI decision in last Thursday's Cabinet meeting.

    At a joint press conference, Parliament Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley once again asserted that the ball was in the government's court to let Parliament function by dropping the FDI decision. "This decision on FDI has to be taken back. In the absence of consensus on the issue, what is the rational of taking this decision, which is so controversial, and that too when Parliament is in session," Jaitley said.

    Sushma chipped in: "Roll back the decision to allow FDI in retail and discuss the issue first, or discuss the matter in Parliament under an adjournment motion, which would entail a vote. Only then the House will run."

    Jaitley said that the Akali Dal, a constituent of the BJP-led NDA, supported FDI in retail, but he has been assured that the party would stand with the Opposition in Parliament on the issue.

    BSP's Satish Mishra also asked the government to immediately revoke the decision to let Parliament function and allow the Opposition to raise other issues that have been lined up.

    Political observers wondered if the PM had made some undisclosed commitment at the G-20 summit in Bali early this month to rush with the FDI decision despite learning by now that the policy will come cropper as ten states have already openly opposed the decision with only five states— Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the last four having Congress governments—backing the government.

    Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
    [email protected]

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    Posted on 29 November 2011



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