The Bharatiya Janata Party is being downright irresponsible in its utterances on the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail.
This is not to deny that FDI in retail may not be the overwhelming economic boon its Congress backers have made it out to be. There may even be strong arguments for not allowing FDI in retail. It may be a god that ultimately fails.
But when party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad goes around saying that if the BJP is voted to power, “consequences will follow,” this is nothing short of political blackmail and hooliganism at work. He may be right (or wrong, who knows?) to claim that “FDI in retail is not in favour of farmers and the 1,000-year-old retail chain in the country”, as the Hindustan Times reports, but to try and frighten investors away with “covert threats” on what will happen to their investments when the BJP comes to power borders on the anti-national.
Whether the BJP likes it or not, FDI in retail is the official policy of an elected government of India. It is not just the policy of Sonia Gandhi – who, like the BJP, has also swung this way and that on FDI – or the Congress, but of India.
At yesterday Congress party meeting she seemed to back FDI in retail, but in 2007 she was fretting about its impact on people with “small-scale operations” and told the PM so in no uncertain terms. (Read here).
If the BJP does not like it, it should campaign against FDI, it can say it will try and build a consensus against the policy, or, at the extreme, it can say it may review some of the details of the policy if they are not working when it comes to power.
Anything beyond this is irresponsible. To say “consequences will follow” is exactly the kind of language one would expect from a Naxal extremist, a Chhota Rajan or the underworld, not the country’s middle-of-the-road principal opposition party.
More than this, there are at least three good reasons why the BJP should stop this kind of short-term bluster.
First, this is a trick everyone can employ. Unless the BJP is sure it will never come to power, there is absolutely no reason why it should be encouraging the politics of blackmail and threats. Policies can always be tweaked or altered, but threats are simply not on. If the BJP comes to power, this kind of blackmail is the last thing it needs.
Second, if the underlying motive is to ensure that no FDI comes in to bail out the country, then the comment is even more reprehensible. The country’s economic well-being cannot be reduced to a political football. The country needs all the foreign exchange it can get to tide over a difficult situation. Sure, the crisis has been brought on by the UPA government’s stupid policies, but that is no reason to ruin the India Story. If the country’s economic future can be held hostage to political gamesmanship, then the BJP should abandon its nationalistic rhetoric. In making the kind of threats it is, the BJP is hurting the country, not the Congress.
Third, one of the big reasons for India’s growth is that despite political differences, from 1991 to 2012, four different governments (Congress, UF, NDA and UPA) have been in power have done nothing to destroy the broader consensus on reforms. Despite political differences – in at least two governments, Communists have had a large say in decisions — but the policies have broadly remained pro-reform. Does the BJP want to be the first spoiler in the India Story? Does it want to do something even the Communists did not do to damage us?
The BJP would do well to heed a former party colleague – Arun Shourie – who asked the party to abandon its efforts to disrupt parliament and oppose policies that it had itself espoused when in government.
FDI in retail may not be the panacea for all ills, but in an economy that is opening up bit by bit, it was bound to come in sooner or later.
The BJP needs to abandon its blind antipathy to anything the Congress does – unless it wants to abandon all hopes of regaining power.
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