The Opposition and government battled it out in the Lok Sabha over FDI in multi-brand retail on Tuesday, with Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj warning that it would lead to more unemployment, impoverished farmers and dissatisfied consumers. In his forceful rebuttal, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal contended that the government had enough safety nets in place and the decision would actually result in better infrastructure while eliminating middlemen.
Both sides threw barbs at each other over changing positions on the issue but Swaraj made a more political speech, obviously with the objective of trying to draw votes away from the government. Sibal, on the other hand, focused on demolishing the opposition’s arguments and clarifying the fineprint of the policy.
Seeking to reassure members and win them over, Swaraj said that a defeat on the FDI vote would not bring down the government and claimed that it would only force a rollback of the decision. “Your fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded,” she said.
The mainstay of Swaraj’s 90-minute offensive though was underlining that FDI in retail had failed in Western economies and that retail giants such as Walmart had finished the small retailer everywhere through predatory pricing. “Hum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte hain (We don’t want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you),” she said.
Swaraj also said claims that farmers will benefit from the move were “baseless” and that farmers in the European Union had been forced to sell their produce below production cost to large retail chains. “A fool learns from his own experience, while a wise man learns from the experience of others,” she said. Even President Barack Obama was now supporting the small retailer with the “small business Saturday” campaign in the US, she added.
In the discussion that was punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Swaraj also pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had opposed FDI in retail in 2002 when he was leader of the Rajya Sabha. She read out a letter that Singh had written to a Mumbai business representative expressing such views, and asked what had happened for him to change his mind. Pointing to recent media reports which said that Walmart had initiated investigations into corrupt practices in India, she hinted that there may be more than meets the eye.