This week, the government's strength will be tested as Parliament votes on one of its flagship reforms - allowing foreign supermarkets into the country. To survive the vote, the government needs the help of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, who do not participate in the UPA, but lend critical outside support.
Mayawati, who heads the BSP, today said that her party believes that Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in retail will hurt small traders, a pressure tactic that seeks to further her demand that for a new law that guarantees promotions in government jobs will see reservation for Scheduled Castes/Tribe employees. She reportedly wants the quota bill to be passed before the vote on the retail reform is held.
Mulayam Singh and his Samajwadi Party are opposed to reservation in promotions for government jobs because they believe it will upset their upper caste votebank. So the government must choose which regional powerhouse to appease.
Mayawati denied today that her support on Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in retail rests on the quota bill. But she administered some serious pressure, stating 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 today.
Mulayam Singh is playing his cards close; he too said, "Whatever I want to say I will say in the Lok Sabha." He has earlier led vocal protests against FDI in retail.
The Lok Sabha will vote on Wednesday on Foreign Direct Investment in retail. The Rajya Sabha is expected to vote on Friday on the same issue.
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.
In the Lok Sabha, the government is likely to win the vote on FDI - even allies like the DMK, who are not on board with the reform, have pledged their support. But in the Rajya Sabha, the government does not have the numbers to survive the vote. It's hoping that Mulayam Singh Yadav, also opposed to FDI, will abstain, and that Mayawati will back the government.