FDI vote: Govt scores but there’s little to celebrate now

"It’s a victory for reform and pragmatism over ideological blinkers,’’ said the Congress after the government won the FDI vote in Lok Sabha today. It’s difficult to believe that there was any clear defeat or victory though. The whole debate, voting and the consequent embarrassment for the opposition was unnecessary. But both the treasury and opposition benches stood their ground and both made the point they wanted to make.

A visibly pleased Kapil Sibal after the FDI vote. PTI.

The voting was on expected lines - 253 of the UPA to 218 of the NDA - with the usual suspects, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, abstaining to bail the government out. However, there is little reason for the government to celebrate at this point. Rajya Sabha is where it faces the real challenge. It will struggle for numbers in the Upper House where it is in clear minority and unless either the SP or the BSP support it and the other abstains there’s little chance of it going beyond the halfway mark.

But the government is justified in claiming moral victory. It is doing well in floor management and despite skating on thin ice on the numbers front has been able to defeat the opposition a number of times. While a defeat here would not have dislodged the government, it would have left it defensive on going full steam with its reformist moves. It can now approach all its reforms proposals with confidence. After two tough years, it finally finds pressure off it shoulders. The icing on the cake is it also own the votes for FEMA rules amendment without which the FDI proposal would not have moved forward.

The political raucous over the government’s FDI in multi-brand retail was unnecessary. To begin with it is an enabling provision, which allowed states the freedom to decide whether they wanted it or not. Moreover, since the government mandates that it would be introduced only in cities with more than 10 lakh population, only 53 cities in the country qualify. Given the opposition from states the government plans to introduce it in 18 of these. The opposition tried to paint a doomsday scenario for Indian agriculture during the debate. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The debate had to end. It is satisfying from the government’s point of view that it ended on a positive note. The prospect of a defeat in Rajya Sabha does not bother it much. For all practical purposes, it has won the battle with the opposition.