Parliaments's winter session kicked off on a stormy note on Thursday primarily over the government's decision to allow FDI in retail, but divisions among parties outside the ruling coalition prevented any real threat to it, reviving hopes that the reform agenda might not be thwarted this time around.
While the ruling UPA's ally-turned-foe Mamata Banerjee's attempt to bring a no-confidence motion failed due to sheer lack of numbers, government managers got all parties to agree to a meeting on Monday to discuss how the session could be salvaged.
Although the BJP did not publicly retract from its demand for a discussion on the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail under Rule 184 which entails voting in the Lok Sabha, indications are that it might relent before Monday's meeting and settle for a debate without voting. Sources said the principal opposition party is keen to avoid the blame of pursuing an obstructionist agenda, given that its wholesale disruption of the monsoon drew flak from many quarters. The BJP, anxious to keep its reformist credentials, could find it embarrassing to be seen as being on board with the Left parties which have a firm anti-reform stance.
Working against a political calendar, the government is desperately banking on the current session to push its reformist legislative agenda and rev up the slowing economy. Prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday reminded all parties of a heavy legislative agenda and sought their cooperation “to address the issues and challenges that we face as a nation.” He said the government was ready to discuss all issues in both Houses.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath — who had earlier said the government was willing to accommodate the demand for a discussion but cannot be pressed on its timing and manner — has called a meeting of all party-leaders of both Houses on Monday.
Senior government functionaries including commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma – a key proponent of the policy to allow FDI in multi-brand retail – had asserted that voting cannot be allowed on an executive decision. The retail FDI policy is one that is cast in stone, and it