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Trinamool's U-turn on retail FDI debate strengthens govt position

BS Reporter/New Delhi 27 Nov 12 | 12:50 AM

In a victory of sorts for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on how foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail should be discussed in Parliament, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Monday said the Speaker should decide whether the discussion should be under a voting or a non-voting rule.

With this, TMC joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in taking a softer stand on the issue.

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Unlike the generally anodyne all-party meetings, the one today, called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, saw animated discussion. Ministers’ body language suggested Finance Minister P Chidambaram was the one controlling the show, while the Leader of the House, Sushilkumar Shinde, was virtually a passive member. Nath, too, was quite active.

The Left, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (United) stuck to their position that the discussion on FDI in retail should be under a rule that entails voting — so that the country knows who is on which side.

But the real question was whether the majority of the House wanted the discussion to be under a voting or non-voting rule. Earlier, BJP had said three quarters of the Lok Sabha were opposed to the FDI in retail, which the government was trying to ram down India’s throat. Today, judging from the position taken by parties in the all-party meeting, this was definitely not the case.

TMC said it wanted the Speaker to decide under which rule the matter should be discussed. At one stage, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj asked Nath: “Voting se darte kyon ho? (why are you afraid of voting?)" To this, Nath replied: “I am not afraid of voting and I think the majority should decide this issue".

The meeting saw a stand-off between Chidambaram and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury. Explaining the need for FDI in retail, the finance minister said India needed money and a vote on the issue would send a wrong signal to investors. “India has a current account deficit of $70 billion which we should all be concerned about," he said.

“Surely, you are not trying to say FDI in retail will bring $70 billion to India and bridge India’s fiscal deficit," retorted Yechury. He also said the Left parties had been fighting FDI in retail since 1996, when the United Front government was in power and they were not going to give up their opposition to it.

Government allies supported a discussion. Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar and Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh said the move would help farmers immensely. One of the leaders, however, on coming out of the meeting, said he did not think the issue had been resolved.

The only challenge before the government now is to persuade its ally, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, which is opposed to the issue, not to press its opposition to the vote. It could, instead, abstain.

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