With the Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) Mayawati pledging the support of her 15 MPs, the Manmohan Singh government is expected to win the vote on foreign direct investment or FDI in multi-brand retail in the Rajya Sabha too. But because the victory margin will be razor thin, the government is scrambling to ensure that every pro-FDI MP is present when the House votes today.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who is the Leader of the Rajya Sabha, has reportedly phoned many of the ten nominated members of the House to consolidate their support. The UPA, including all allies, has 94 MPs and nine of the 10 nominated MPs are expected to vote for it, a total of 103. One of the nominated members, Sachin Tendulkar, will not be in the House today - he is playing the Kolkata third Test against England.
Yesterday, Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath met top Congress leaders to take stock of the government's numbers.
The Rajya Sabha has 244 members. The Samajwadi Party has said its nine MPs will walk out before the vote as they did in the Lok Sabha; with them not voting and Sachin absent, the House strength will come down to 234 and the majority mark to 118. Ms Mayawati's 15 MPs will take the pro-FDI total to 118, exactly the number it requires.
But for that the Congress will also have to ensure that all its MPs are present in House - Murli Deora, who is unwell, will seek medical advice to see if he is fit to fly out of Mumbai. SM Krishna, who is abroad, returns tonight and Janardhan Reddy who has also been unwell, is likely to attend the vote. On the anti-FDI side Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, recently expelled by the BJD, is likely to be absent.
The end of the Rajya Sabha debate saw Commerce Minister spar with the BJP's Arun Jaitley on the Opposition's contention that the government went ahead with its decision to allow foreign supermarkets into India without consulting other political parties. The house had to be adjourned as opposition MPs kept up their protests and Mr Sharma refused to yield. The motion will now be put to 2:30 pm.
Mr Sharma said he had spoken to 14 chief ministers and written to others, met heads of political parties and representatives of major farmers' unions in the country before going ahead with the big reform measure. "I wrote to Nitin Gadkari, why did he not discuss it with his party," said a combative Mr Sharma, when asked by Arun Jaitley why the BJP had not been consulted.
He also rebutted Mr Jaitley's contention yesterday that the country would become one of sales boys and girls if FDI in retail was allowed. He said this sent out the wrong message to those who earned a living selling goods.
Mr Jaitley in his speech yesterday had also scorned at government's win in the Lok Sabha, with the help of the BSP and SP. The BJP has called it a "technical victory but a moral defeat." That, said Mr Jaitley said made it a "lame duck government."
"When you are 18 short of majority, then you cannot run the government as you please. You cannot touch the 272 mark in Lok Sabha - you will need support and help. And whenever you need help, you have to compromise and pay a price. The country is worried that with regard to investigative agencies and the government's work practices - we have seen the compromises for the past four years. After yesterday's vote, those worries have gone up. After that figure you are a lame duck government, and you are dependent on support which is costly."
Soon after he said that BSP chief Mayawati killed all suspense yesterday of how the government expected to cobble together numbers in the Upper House by announcing she would vote for FDI in retail. She used much of her speech to attack the BJP for criticising her walkout before the vote in the Lok Sabha.
In the Lok Sabha, the BSP had warned the government not to rush through with FDI in multi-brand retail since there were fears that small retailers and farmers would be adversely affected. A day later Ms Mayawati said in the Rajya Sabha, "What is good but is that it is not compulsory for all states. We have also considered whether to stand with communal forces. There can be disruption in the coming days. Important bills are pending, the government will get the excuse to escape important issues. That's why looking at plus points, the BSP will vote in favour of the government," Mayawati said.
There will be a political trade-off; the government could give in to Ms Mayawati's demands on the bill promotions in government jobs or on building memorials. The government has called its Lok Sabha win a victory of pragmatism over politics.