New Delhi: The Congress party’s floor managers appear to have pulled off a coup. Though the BJP and the Left parties will get what they have been asking for — a debate on FDI in multi-brand retailing with voting — their hopes of embarrassing the government with a negative vote has practically failed.
Buoyed by the 19-member DMK’s support to FDI to “protect secularism”, the government is now agreeable to holding a discussion in the Lok Sabha under Rule 184, which requires voting at the end of the debate. Even as Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath’s meeting with the two Leaders of the Opposition in the two houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, did not end in agreement on how to end the logjam, there are enough indications that the government has been able to secure the numbers.
The government is clearly sensing victory. It will get parliamentary endorsement, even if this was not technically required. Secondly, the turn of events shows that the BJP has become incapacitated by its own internal squabbles. Unable to put its own house in order, its efforts to corner the government even on politically contentious issues are coming a cropper.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — though opposed to FDI — are yet again expected to come to the rescue of the government, perhaps by abstaining from the vote. The SP, which had formed a Morcha (Front) along with the Left parties and Telugu Desam and called a Bharat Bandh over the issue, has managed to do another U-turn. The BSP, which too had expressed reservations against FDI, is now going to claim that securing quota for SCs and STs in promotions is more important than embarrassing the government on FDI.
Kamal Nath dropped hints today that with the numbers secured, the government would accept the BJP’s demand for a vote. He said the all-party meeting held two days ago gave a sense that everyone wanted Parliament to run smoothly and a larger number of political parties were not concerned about whether the debate would be held with voting or without. But in line with protocol, he said: “We have left the decision with the Speaker. Presiding officers should take any decision they want in the interest of running Parliament.”
It is, however, not clear when the government proposes to have the discussion. It could even take place next week. In that case, how the Opposition plays its cards will be an interesting thing to watch. Sushma Swaraj said: “The Prime Minister has said that he is confident of getting a majority and that the DMK is also supporting the government. If the numbers are in your favour then why don’t you go for voting on the issue?”
While the government is confident about the vote in the Lok Sabha, it will need to do extra homework when it comes to the Rajya Sabha. The UPA, with all its allies, has only 95 MPs in a 244-member Rajya Sabha. Abstentions by the SP (9 MPs) and BSP (15 MPs) will not do much for the government. At least one of them will have to vote for the government.
It is not clear if this will happen, but it seems the politics of FDI in retail has allowed UPA allies to bargain hard for their issues.