The government’s move to allow FDI in multi-brand retail got a formal stamp of approval in the Lok Sabha Wednesday as the UPA convincingly voted out the opposition motion against the policy, with decisive help from the SP and BSP who walked out of the house after speaking against the policy decision.
The motion seeking withdrawal of the executive decision allowing 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, moved by the leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj, was defeated by a margin of 35 votes. Of the total 471 votes cast, the UPA managed 253 votes against the 218 of the opposition that included the BJP, Left, BJD and TRS.
A second vote on a FEMA amendment notification moved by Trinamool MP Saugata Roy was also defeated with the government getting 254 votes against 224 by the opposition.
However, the tougher task before the government now is the debate beginning Thursday in the Rajya Sabha, where the numbers are not in favour of the UPA.
There were several takeaways from the Lok Sabha vote and the engaging debate, which saw strong clashes as also the coming together of unlikely partners — CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress against FDI in multi-brand retail and SP and BSP to bail the government out.
First, it was evident that no party was interested in rocking the UPA boat, even if the FDI vote was not technically a referendum on the government, and the victory came as a relief to MPs individually. This, even when the “sense of the house” appeared to be against FDI in multi-brand retail with major parties including the BJP, Left, SP, BSP and Trinamool strongly opposing it during the debate.
Second, Commerce minister Anand Sharma revealed during his reply that he had made fresh changes in the policy — instead of retail chains eligible to set up shop only in cities with a population of 10 lakh and above, they can open in smaller cities too. This was done after protests from states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Assam that have cities with smaller populations.
Third, the vote reaffirmed the government’s total dependence on the SP and BSP in Parliament to get critical legislations passed, beginning with the bill allowing for quotas in promotions for SCs and STs the BSP is keen on. The walkouts by the SP and BSP, however, did not come as a surprise as government managers had aggressively wooed them.
SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP leader Dara Singh strongly attacked the FDI decision during the debate but when it came to voting, the two parties walked out of the house. UPA partners DMK and NCP said they did not support the controversial FDI decision but voted with the government in the House.
The mainstay of Commerce minister Anand Sharma’s response was to rebut the opposition contention that the government had failed to build a consensus among all stakeholders, including political parties and state governments.
Making a point by point rebuttal, Sharma listed out letters that were written to political parties as well as the number of meetings held at the official level with farmers’ organisations and others. Sharma maintained that the DIPP secretary also wrote to all state governments and finally 11 state governments out of 21 strongly supported allowing FDI in multi-brand retail, which caused the government to push the decision.
“I also individually met Mamata Banerjee thrice...I also went to Bhubaneswar and talked to Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. And I also went to Punjab and sought the support of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal,” he told the House adding that he respected their decision to oppose FDI in multi-brand retail. “In a federal structure, everyone has the right to decide. We are not imposing on any state. We are only making it an enabling law,” he said.
Contesting the victory of the government, Swaraj interpreted the debate as a clear indication that the “sense of the house” was against FDI in multi-brand retail. “After the vote, it is amply clear that the government is in a minority...But the government is ignoring the fact that it does not have majority. This is arrogance of power” she told reporters after the vote. “Though they won technically, they have lost morally.”
Earlier in the house, she said that of the 18 parties that participated in the debate, only four - Congress, NCP, RJD and RLD - spoke in favour while 14 parties were strongly opposed. “If you go by the numbers then these 14 parties represent 282 members, who were clearly against FDI in retail” she said.
She also questioned Sharma’s contention that political consensus had been forged. “How can you say it is consensus if the main opposition is not there” she said. “What you see today is consensus, when 14 parties are against it. Consensus was also seen on the day of Bharat bandh when Trinamool and CPI(M) together supported it and so did the SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh.”
Oppn motions rejected
FDI IN MULTI-BRAND RETAIL
Votes against the motion 253
Votes for the motion 218
FEMA RULE CHANGES
Votes against the motion 254
Votes for the motion 224
Total strength of House: 545
Walkouts: SP (22 MPs, BSP 21)
Abstentions: 0 Rest absent