The debate was never about kiranas or even farmers, it was about political strength—that’s the big lesson for the UPA
Given all the talk of ‘communal forces’ during the debate on retail FDI, both inside as well as outside Parliament, it always seemed pretty much a done deal. That, when push came to shove, both the SP and the BSP and perhaps even others would abstain from the vote, to find some way to let the government push the necessary legislation through. And, in any case, as former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Acharya points out, if the Lok Sabha votes in favour of retail FDI, it doesn’t really matter what the Rajya Sabha does—the details are confusing, those interested can watch the December 4 episode of Karan Thapar’s ‘Last Word’ (http://goo.gl/Z8nQH).
But if it was pretty much a done deal—CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury cited similar instances, on the same show, where the government usually managed to ram its way through—why did the BJP and others want the vote? In all likelihood to expose the SP and the BSP as opportunistic dealmakers, going along with them in the anti-FDI campaign and yet allowing the government to push retail FDI through. While it’s not certain how that will play out, if at all, during the elections, the SP/BSP pragmatism augurs well for economic reforms. It’s good news for the government that is desperately trying to drum up the global mood as well as for foreign investors who’re looking for signs to show India is once again open to business. As for the so-called opportunism of the SP and the BSP, it’s important to realise the way the retail FDI proposal was crafted; it was up to the state governments to decide if they wanted it in their states. So neither party is, at one level, being untrue to its convictions.
In any case, make no mistake, the issue was never about the kirana owner, nor was it about the farmer, the poor smelly farmer who BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said may never even be able to sell his produce inside a fancy FDI retail chain—which means she either thinks India’s cold chain is so developed, fresh produce will be imported, or that Carrefour simply won’t have a fresh produce section.
Nor was it particularly about facts. If it was, Swaraj wouldn’t have told us McDonald’s doesn’t buy Indian potatoes for its fries, or that Pepsi