Three top BJP leaders dined on Thursday night at the 7 Race Course Road residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is making efforts to ensure that the winter session of Parliament is not lost to the standoff between the government and the opposition over the Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in multi-brand retail issue. Sources said there was no breakthrough.
At the dinner, the BJP, sources said, was adamant that the only way it will allow Parliament to function without disruption is if the government agrees to discuss its major policy decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail under Rule 184, which entails a vote. The government was equally adamant that it was an executive decision that does not need Parliament's approval. It is ready to discuss the issue, but it does not want a vote.
To that the BJP reminded the government that it had promised last December, in both Houses, that all stakeholders, including political parties, would be consulted before a decision was taken on the FDI issue.
On Thursday morning, before Parliament convened for the session, the PM made a direct appeal to the opposition saying, there was a "very heavy legislative agenda during the Winter Session. I seek cooperation from my colleagues in the House." He has also called an all-party meeting on Monday. (Read)
An all-party meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Tuesday too had failed to break the logjam.
At the dinner meeting, parliamentary party chief LK Advani, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley represented the BJP; Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Finance Minister P Chidambaram were also there, apart from the host. Dr Singh has held a series of dinners and one lunch with allies and parties that give him external support, to consolidate the UPA's position ahead of what promises to be a heated session of Parliament.
Day one of the session on Thursday was a washout, with a series of adjournments before both Houses adjourned for the day without transacting any business. The highlight was Mamata Banerjee's failed attempt to move a No-Confidence Motion against the government she walked out of two months ago. Her Trinamool Congress party could not muster the support of 50 MPs to push the motion through. Ms Banerjee is opposed to the government's decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail, one of the major reasons for her exit from the UPA. (Read: Trinamool's no-confidence motion flops)
The BJP and the Left are opposed to the government's decision too, but they prefer debate and vote to a No-Confidence Motion since the likely defeat of such a motion would mean an endorsement of all the government's policies.
The PM had invited the BJP leaders to dinner on Saturday last, a day after he hosted UPA allies for dinner, but it had to be cancelled because of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death that afternoon. Before that, he had Sunday lunch with the Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati and dinner with the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both these parties provide crucial external support to the government, which was plunged into a minority after Mamata Banerjee walked out.