Parliament is set to debate and vote on the issue of allowing Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in multi-brand retail over the next four days, starting today. Apart from the avowed support of all UPA partners, including the DMK, the government is also armed with broad hints from two key allies Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) that they are unlikely to let it down. At a cost.
The debate will begin today in the Lok Sabha at 2 pm; Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj will speak first proposing the motion. After many arguments for and against, the motion will be put to vote in the Lower House tomorrow. The Rajya Sabha will begin debating the issue on Thursday and will vote on Friday.
The government has its numbers sewn up in the Lok Sabha, where it only requires the SP and the BSP to abstain to allow it to sail past a reduced halfway mark. In the Rajya Sabha though, it is in a distinct minority and will need more active support from these two regional powerhouses, both of which give external support to the government.
The entire BJP-led NDA has closed ranks in opposing the FDI decision. The Left parties, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and some other parties have also made their intent to vote against the government clear. Despite that the Prime Minister reached out to the AIADMK yesterday and asked it to reconsider its opposition to the policy in national interest. The AIADMK rules Tamil Nadu with its chief J Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister.
Yesterday, the BSP's Mayawati gave the government some reason to breathe easier when she said that though all her fears on FDI had not been allayed, its implementation was up to individual states and, she said, she could not allow "communal forces" read the BJP, to win. "Without seeing the results, we cannot currently support the policy to introduce FDI in retail. We will decide about voting on the floor of the House as we don't want to stand by communal parties," she said.
Ms Mayawati has reportedly let the government know that support on FDI, if any, is linked to the passing of a bill that provides reservation for scheduled castes and tribes in promotions in government jobs. The BSP reportedly wants the quota bill to be passed before the vote on the retail reform is held - it is listed in the Rajya Sabha today. Though party chief Mayawati has denied these reports, she is said to have administered some serious pressure on Monday when she stated that whether her party will back the government will be revealed only when the FDI vote is held. "The BSP thinks that without seeing the pros and cons of FDI, taking a final decision is not wise. We want to tell the government through the media that they should study the impact of FDI in a few Congress-run states and then arrive at a final decision of whether or not to continue the policy," she said.
Mulayam Singh is watching the Quota Bill closely. His party is opposed to reservation in promotions for government jobs because the SP believes it will upset its votebank. Mr Yadav has been non-committal saying on Monday, "Whatever I want to say I will say in the Lok Sabha." He has earlier been a vocal opponent of FDI in retail, and has, through party leaders, let it be known that the SP's support cannot be taken for granted if the quota bill comes first.
The government is said to be talking to smaller groups too in the Rajya Sabha to make up numbers.
The vote in both Houses is a symbolic one, but a loss could adrenalise the Opposition's demand for a rollback of the reform, and severely undermine the authority of the Prime Minister whose government shrank to a minority in September when key ally Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress exited the ruling coalition over the decision to allow 51% Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in retail. Other reforms opposed by the party included a decision to limit the supply of subsidised cooking gas to households.(With inputs from PTI)