Bracing for the crucial vote on FDI in Rajya Sabha tomorrow, government today got a shot in the arm with BSP extending support to it, even as BJP and AIADMK attacked it and other such parties for siding with UPA despite being opposed to the move.
Samajwadi Party, whose support would be dearly required by UPA, however, maintained ambiguity over its stance during voting while asking the government to do a rethink on the FDI policy.
The controversial decision on FDI, which was approved convincingly by Lok Sabha yesterday, was hotly debated in an animated manner in the 244-member Upper House where the ruling UPA does not have a majority of its own as its strength is only 94 and is heavily dependent on parties like BSP and SP.
Announcing her party's support to UPA's decision on FDI, BSP chief Mayawati she said, "We have decided to vote in favour of government on FDI in multi-brand retail issue tomorrow." BSP has 15 members in the Rajya Sabha and the party had yesterday staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha, helping bail out the government in the vote.
During the day-long debate that was punctuated by clashes, accusations and counter-accusations, Mayawati said she backs the FDI policy since it "has a plus point as it is not binding on states and they are free to implement it."
Naresh Agrawal of SP, which has nine members, asked the government to have a rethink on the FDI decision, saying it would hurt farmers and small traders, particularly those living in villages.
"We have neither taken the responsibility to save this government nor to bring it down," he said, suggesting that tomorrow's voting can even be avoided.
Agrawal, whose party is in power in Uttar Pradesh, said FDI would not be allowed in the state as it would destroy the livelihood of farmers. In this context, he cited the example of how VAT was not implemented by the party's previous government.
NCP leader Y P Trivedi, whose party is a constituent of UPA and a partner in the Maharashtra government, disapproved of efforts to create a scare over FDI but said its implementation in the state would be decided by Congress-NCP Coordination Committee after assessing its likely impact.
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who was the first to speak on the issue on government's behalf, said UPA has taken a "conscious decision" on FDI in multi-brand retail and "at this stage of economic development and growth permitting FDI is a national imperative".
Kumar said the move will be able to enlist a significant amount of investment in backyard infrastructure which is required to create warehouses and cold chains so that the produce of farmers do not go waste.
Initiating the debate, AIADMK member V Maitreyan demanded withdrawal of the decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail and said it will be reversed if his party has a role in the next Central government.
Maitreyan and Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley earlier attacked BSP as also SP, DMK and NCP for helping the government in voting despite reservations to the policy.
BSP was the main target of Jaitley who said, "You know that this policy is harmful to the country. If you are willing to proclaim, you should be willing to strike."
The Leader of the Opposition raised questions on continuation of the UPA government, saying it has failed to touch the figure of 272 and has fallen short of 18 of a majority in the Lower House during voting on FDI.
"After this figure, you are a lame duck government" and questioned how much price the nation would have to pay for the decision of a "minority" government. Mayawati reacted sharply to the remarks that her party was helping the government under CBI pressure saying the main Opposition party is levelling such allegations after it found out that "grapes were sour" as its game plan did not succeed.
Her remarks led to noisy scenes in the House as BJP demanded the remarks to be expunged but Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said there was nothing unparliamentary in what the BSP supremo has said.
Jaitley and Maitreyan said the measure was earlier opposed by both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi when they were in the opposition.
He targeted the Prime Minister saying that as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha during the NDA rule, Singh had strongly opposed FDI in retail.
Hitting out at DMK over the issue, Maitreyan said "If there is one party which believes in running with the hare and hunting with the hound, it is DMK."
While DMK had voted with the government in the Lok Sabha during the debate yesterday, SP and BSP had staged walk out.
All the three parties had spoken against the measure, a fact repeatedly highlighted by Jaitley during the debate today.
Jaitley also referred to NCP's announcement of not supporting FDI in multi-brand retail and reminded that DMK had participated in a Bharat bandh against the move.
Rejecting arguments in favour of the measure, Jaitley attacked the government saying their debate is based on "deception" and charged it with "concocting" figures by exaggerating the amount of waste and allowing hand over our food supply chain to foreigners.
He said the government was creating a "horror situation" about lack of cold storage chains to justify the need for FDI in the sector. "Is making cold chains impossible? It is not rocket science," he said, adding it was giving isolated examples in favour of the move.
Ashwini Kumar also sought to remind Jaitley that the NDA Cabinet had taken a view in favour of FDI, which was rejected by Jaitley saying it was never so and was only a proposal.
"The ultimate beneficiary will be consumers and 100 crore people of India. This policy will bring benefit all sections. The farming community of India will have everything to rejoice. No farmer has taken to the road against the policy. The logic of the moment supports the decision. We have done exactly what the people of India want," he said.
Jaitley said this government does not have the mandate to speak on behalf of people of the country and it was a "self-assumed authority" that it was speaking on behalf of the people of the nation. "This is not the time to introduce this policy. You may force it, but India will not accept this policy," he said.
He said after FDI comes in, one will have a situation where the stores will be owned by US, France and others with Chinese products selling in them and "India will remain a nation of salesbosy and salesgirls".
The debate also saw frequent barbs between Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma with Jaitley.
Mayawati said BSP wanted to boycott voting in the Rajya Sabha but this would have led to the passage of motion against FDI, thus giving Opposition space for "politicising" their victory and the House would have not functioned, where several important bills are pending.
Keeping these in mind, she said her party decided to support the government.
The BSP supremo launched a scathing attack on the BJP by accusing it of "misusing" the CBI when it was in power.
"We are not afraid of CBI....never have been afraid of CBI even in worst times," she said.
Naresh Agrawal (SP) said allowing FDI in multi-brand retail may lead to huge influx of Chinese goods into the Indian market as he wondered if there was any certainty that big retailers would not source their products from China.
Reacting to the widespread criticism of his party for its absence from voting in the other House last evening leading to Government's victory, Agrawal said, "We don't make or destroy any government...We won't allow FDI in UP."
He said the impact of FDI in multi-brand retail would be much like what has happened in the country following signing of the WTO agreement.
"After so many years of WTO...what has happened to our country? Our new generation is now fond of coals; they don't drink milk," he said.