Hours before UPA allies meet to discuss how the logjam in Parliament over the Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail issue can be broken, the BJP emerged from a meeting of its own today to reiterate that only a discussion with a vote will do, putting the onus for ensuring Parliament runs on the government.
The UPA allies are now meeting to decide on their next course of action. Rahul Gandhi is attending that meeting with his mother UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Also present are Ahmed Patel, Mrs Gandhi's Political Secretary and alliance partners like Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel of the NCP, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and TR Baalu of the DMK. (Track live updates here)
Press Trust of India reports that the DMK will back the government on FDI in retail. "DMK took the decision with "bitterness" to prevent communal forces from coming to power", PTI quoted Karunanidhi as saying.
Both Houses again opened today to slogans against FDI in retail; the Rajya Sabha was adjourned almost immediately for an hour. In the Lok Sabha, Speaker Meira Kumar tried hard to run question hour but she too was compelled to adjourn proceedings a few minutes later. When the houses reconvened, Rajya Sabha was adjourned almost immediately for the day. Lok Sabha has been adjourned till 2 pm.
"If there is no vote, the government will be responsible for stalling House," BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said after a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party, and asked the government not to "run away from a vote."
The government says allowing a vote on an executive decision will set a bad precedent. But with three working days of Parliament now washed out and a fourth looking set for the same, 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. (Watch)
At the all-party meeting, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the Left stuck to their demand for a vote on the decision. They have forced adjournments within minutes of both Houses of Parliament convening in the Winter Session so 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 yesterday.
The UPA has so far offered only a discussion, having shepherded its friends and allies and aligning them to its position that there should be no 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, have said that they want a discussion, leaving it to the Speaker of Lok Sabha to decide on the requirement of voting.
The BSP's support on FDI comes with a rider - it wants the bill on quota in government job promotions to be tabled in Parliament first. Easily done, save that the Samajwadi Party is dead opposed to this bill, since it is going to affect its core voter base. The introduction of the promotion quota bill in the last session ended in a fist-fight in Parliament between the two sides. Walking a tightrope, the government listed the quota bill in the Rajya Sabha yesterday demonstrating intent to the BSP.
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. Today, Trinamool MPs demonstrated outside Parliament saying the government must go.
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.