UPA allies will meet this morning to discuss how the logjam in Parliament over the Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail issue can be broken. The government has emphatically said that giving in to the Opposition demand for a vote in Parliament on an executive decision will set a bad precedent. But with three working days of Parliament now washed out, it might just have to capitulate to ensure important legislative work gets done.
After an all-party meeting failed to break the deadlock yesterday, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told NDTV, "I am not averse to a vote on FDI but I don't believe it sets a healthy precedent," Mr Nath said. "If we can't convince the Opposition, we will consider a vote on FDI," he added. At the all-party meeting, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the Left stuck to their demand for a vote on the decision.
The BJP is clear that it will allow Houses to function only if the government agrees to a debate and vote on its policy decision. It has demonstrated that resolve with forcing adjournments within minutes of both Houses of Parlaiment convening in the Winter Session do far. "BJP has decided very firmly and there will be no compromise...we want a discussion that ends with a vote in Lok Sabha under Rule 184, and under Rule 167 in Rajya Sabha. We will only state our opinion only in Parliament; it won't function till the government agrees on a vote," said senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.
The UPA has offered only a discussion. That offer could very well be rooted in the fact that the government appears to have successfully shepherded its friends and allies, aligning them to its position on not having a vote. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), both supporting the government from outside and whose numbers are crucial to see a possible vote through, said that they wanted a discussion, leaving it to the Speaker of Lok Sabha to decide on the requirement of voting.
But their support could leave the government with another political knot to untangle - the Bahujan Samaj Party wants the bill on quota in government job promotions to tabled in Parliament first. The Samajwadi Party is dead opposed to this bill, since it is going to hit its core voter base. Both parties keep the government afloat with support from outside. The introduction of the promotion quota bill in the last session ended in a fist-fight in Parliament between the two sides.
From the opposition, the Trinamool Congress said at the all-party meeting that it wanted a discussion, without insisting on a vote, though party sources said that if there was one, it will vote against the government. This is being seen as a retaliation against the BJP and Left, neither of which supported its call for a no-confidence motion against the government. The Trinamool had pulled out of the government on the issue of FDI in retail, leaving it in a minority.
UPA ally DMK, which has been opposed to FDI in retail, too indicated that it wouldn't put the government in any trouble. Congress negotiator Ghulam Nabi Azad had met DMK chief M Karunanidhi in Chennai last evening. After the all-party meeting today, the DMK said that it wants more discussion on the issue but didn't ask for a vote.
Earlier on Monday, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav met the Prime Minister before the all-party meeting, following which sources said that the Uttar Pradesh powerhouse will not go with the demand for a vote. After the all-party meet, the SP said that it wants a discussion and left the rule under which it will be called to the Speaker.
The government has also reached out to other opposition parties like the Janata Dal(United) led by Nitish Kumar to seeking support on the FDI issue. (Read Commerce Minister Anand Sharma's letter to Nitish Kumar
The UPA needs both the BSP and the SP to take its numbers to about 300 odd, safely across the halfway mark at 273 in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. Without them, including the DMK, it has about 240 MPs. Though the government will not fall if it loses a discussion-and-vote in Parliament, it will be a crippling embarrassment as well as give the Opposition an upper hand in its sustained refusal to accept FDI in retail. The BJP and the Left are pushing hard for the debate-and-vote. The government has so far refused arguing that an executive decision does not need Parliament's nod.