The Bahujan Samaj Party's 15 Rajya Sabha MPs will vote in favour of the government's decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail. This could help the government scrape through by a whisker and win tomorrow's vote in the Upper House, where it is in a minority.
After BSP chief Mayawati announced her support, to much cheering from the government benches, Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath met top Congress leaders to take stock of numbers. 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. The 10th, Sachin Tendulkar, is playing the Kolkata third Test against England and will not be in the House.
The Rajya Sabha has 244 members. With the nine Samajwadi Party MPs expected to abstain, as the party did in the Lok Sabha, 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 have to ensure that all its MPs are present in House - Murli Deora, who is unwell, will seek mediacl 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.
Ms Mayawati, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, killed the suspense of how the government expected to cobble together numbers in the Upper House by announcing she would vote for FDI in retail at the end of her speech, much of which she used to attack the BJP for criticising her walkout before the vote in the Lok Sabha. On FDI in retail, an issue she has so far been non-committal on she said, "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. During the Lok Sabha debate, the BSP had asked 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.
The BJP's Sushma Swaraj had criticised the BSP yesterday saying, "It is not a question of BJP, this is not a communal issue. But the problem is the issue has now become FDI vs CBI... when the BSP wants support, they come to us and then we aren't communal. This dichotomy won't work." Ms Mayawati today said that remark was "ghatiya (cheap)" causing BJP benches in the Rajya Sabha to protest angrily and the House to be adjourned for 10 minutes. "We are often accused of being under pressure from the CBI. This has become fashionable for the Opposition," she said, adding she condemned the language used by Ms Swaraj.
The BJP says the government's win in the Lok Sabha yesterday, aided by the walkout of allies who have spoken against FDI in retail, was a "technical victory but a moral defeat." That, said the BJP's Arun Jaitley today, made it a "lame duck government." He said in his speech today, "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."
The government has called its Lok Sabha win a victory of pragmatism over politics.
V Maitreyan of the AIADMK initiated the debate in the Rajya Sabha at noon, speaking in Tamil, English and Hindi to accuse the government of going back on its promise in Parliament that it would allow foreign direct investment or FDI in multi-brand retail only after consulting all political parties. Before House sat today, the AIADMK leader said, "If the House is allowed to function, we have the majority in House. Whatever has happened in the Lok Sabha, the government does not have the numbers here."