Exactly a year after the government was forced to put on hold its decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, the UPA Friday won a hugely symbolic and significant vote in favour of the decision in the Rajya Sabha with the help of the BSP and the Samajwadi Party.
While the BSP, as announced, voted with the government against the opposition motion seeking withdrawal of the decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, the SP walked out of the house. A similar motion was defeated in the Lok Sabha Wednesday.
The outcome of the vote was on expected lines as the BSP, which has 15 members, had made it clear Thursday that it would bail the government out in the upper house, where the numbers are not in the favour of the UPA. But the absence of three TDP members - including its leader in the house T Devender Goud - during voting came as a surprise.
Suspended JD(U) MP Upendra Kushwaha voted for the government. Party leader Shivanand Tiwari said it would move for his disqualification for violation of the party whip. JMM MP Sanjiv Kumar too was absent.
The TDP had strongly opposed FDI in multi-brand retail and its chief Chandrababu Naidu had courted arrest along with Left leaders as part of a nationwide bandh called by opposition parties in September. TDP leaders were at a loss to explain the absence of Goud, Y S Chowdary and Gundu Sudharani during the vote, which came after two days of intense and acrimonious debate.
The motion moved by the AIADMK’s V Maitreyan was defeated by a margin of 14 votes. While the opposition promptly accused the government of indulging in political manoeuvering to win the vote, the government heaved a huge sigh of relief and indicated that it would announce more reform measures.
Commerce minister Anand Sharma described it as a decisive victory for the government. Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath termed the outcome a “rejection” of the BJP’s politics and hinted the government would bring more reform bills. “Certainly, we are going to bring in more legislation in the coming weeks in Parliament and we will be engaging all political parties on it,” Nath said when asked whether the vote was a signal for more reforms.
Of the total 232 votes cast, the UPA managed 123 against the 109 of the opposition that included the BJP-led NDA, Left, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress and the BJD. The final tally could, however, change as the numbers did not add up. The government has sought a recalculation of votes.
According to the final tally which is subject to correction, 232 votes were cast. On the other hand, 17 members - including nine SP members who walked out - were absent. This takes the total number to 249, while the present strength of the house is 244.
Apart from the TDP members, JD(U)’s Bashistha Narain Singh, Congress’ Murli Deora, expelled BJD leader Pyarimohan Mohapatra and nominated member Sachin Tendulkar were also absent. While Singh had taken permission to stay away because of a wedding in his family, Deora is unwell.
Before the voting, the house witnessed opposition and treasury benches clashing several times. It plunged into turmoil and had to be adjourned after Sharma said a Planning Commission report prepared in 2002 by a committee headed by N K Singh - now a JD(U) MP - had recommended FDI in the retail sector.
Singh countered him, but with Sharma not yielding, the entire opposition came to his support. NDA members led by leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley demanded an apology from Sharma for “misleading” the house, resulting in the disruption.
Sharma led a spirited defence of the government move saying the government would never take any decision under “Western influence or any influence”. “We will uphold and secure the supreme national interest of the people of India,” he said. He rejected the opposition argument that FDI in multi-brand retail will be disastrous for small traders and hurt farmers.
Sharma accused the opposition of creating a scare and rejected Jaitley’s contention that the measure will lead to India becoming a nation of salesboys and salesgirls. “You have scared foreign investors who want to visit India,” he said.
In his reply, Maitreyan said a majority of the 32 members who participated in the debate were opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail and argued it was unfortunate that voting was not on the merits of the issue but other considerations. He reiterated that the next government would reverse the decision.