With all allies, including the DMK now, firmly on its side, the government is prepping for a vote on its decision to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. This is aimed at ending the logjam in Parliament, which has seen no work done in the first four days of the Winter Session.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath met BJP's Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley today.
After the meeting, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said, '...the government asked us once again not to press for rule 184 but we insisted on a discussion with voting."
Officially, the UPA said after a meeting of allies yesterday that it will abide by the Lok Sabha Speaker's decision on which rule FDI in retail should be discussed under in the House. But in clear indication that the government was donning battle gear for a vote, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said as he emerged from the meeting, "We are confident of numbers."
The BJP-led Opposition has been pressing for a discussion under Rule 184 in the Lok Sabha and Rule 167 in the Rajya Sabha, which entail voting at the end of the debate. The government had so far held arguing that an executive decision on policy did not need Parliament's approval. The sub-text was that the Manmohan Singh government, which depends heavily on the support of partners and external allies in both houses of Parliament, did not have its numbers adding up.
Now it does, especially after word came in that the DMK, which is the second largest party in the ruling coalition after the Congress, was on board, though reluctantly. As the allies met in New Delhi yesterday, DMK chief M Karunanidhi said in Chennai, "The UPA government's continuance is a must in the present situation. Though we have differences on FDI, we will support the government to avert the UPA's fall. We do not want to give room for BJP to come to power." (Read
So after the meeting of UPA allies on Tuesday, Mr Kamal Nath said, "The UPA is fully united. The allies want the Speaker to decide. I will consult the Speaker." (Watch
Earlier on Tuesday, the BJP held its own meeting and said it would not let Parliament function until the government agreed to a debate and vote; minutes later it kept its word, forcing an adjournment in both Houses. Parliament will not sit today on account of Gurpurab.
Allies now secured, the government also needs the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, which provide crucial external support, to help it win a vote. Both parties have indicated that they will not do anything to hurt the government, even as they have engaged in energetic political negotiations to extract their pound of flesh. As of now, both parties are expected to abstain if there is a vote on FDI. The Samajwadi Party in particular, as its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has been a vocal opponent of FDI in multi-brand retail.
In the 545-seat Lok Sabha, if the BSP (21 MPs) and SP (22 MPs) abstain, the majority mark in the House will be reduced from 273 to 251. The UPA, including all allies big and small, has 261 MPs, and will comfortably cross 251.
In the Rajya Sabha, however, the government might need more active help from the SP (9 MPs) and BSP (15 MPs). The Upper house has 244 seats and the UPA, all allies, has only 95 MPs. The halfway mark in this House is at 123; if the BSP and SP abstain in the Rajya Sabha too, the majority mark will be reduced to 111. Even with 12 nominated MPs voting for the government, it will be stretch to reach 111.
The government will not fall if it loses a discussion-and-vote in Parliament, but it will be a huge loss of face and credibility at a time when it hopes to use its reform measures like FDI in retail as strong election planks.