How will Mulayam Singh Yadav vote this evening on the BJP's motion opposing the government's decision to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail? The Samajwadi Party chief argued against the government's policy in the Lok Sabha yesterday and the party says it will either vote FDI in retail or abstain. The government's floor managers hope it will be the latter.
Mr Yadav's brother and senior party colleague Ram Gopal Yadav said this morning that his party's decision on how to vote would only be taken after Commerce Minister Anand Sharma replied to the debate in the Lok Sabha this evening. And, he stressed, "Whatever we will decide, the decision will be the same in both Houses." (Track latest developments)
That could cause the government some anxious moments; while it is sanguine it has the numbers to defeat the motion in the Lok Sabha, it is in a distinct minority in the Rajya Sabha and needs the active support of the SP and the BSP.
The upper house will begin debating the issue tomorrow and will vote on Friday. The Lok Sabha, meanwhile, has been adjourned for the day following chaos in the house over RJD chief Lalu Prasad's comments.
Like the SP, the BSP too has not shown its hand on how it will vote on the FDI issue yet. BSP MP Dara Singh Chauhan in his speech on the Lok Sabha yesterday warned that "people are anxious over the impact this policy can have on their lives. They fear the multi-national companies will take away their livelihoods. The government should not rush with it." (FDI debate: Who said what)
BSP chief Mayawati has said that keeping "communal forces" read the BJP, at bay is a priority.
The BJP's Sushma Swaraj, who initiated the debate in the Lok Sabha yesterday, turned to the BSP and Samajwadi Party benches and made a direct appeal saying, "If the government does not take the decision back, then I appeal to my colleagues here, vote with us and defeat FDI. The government will not fall if they lose the vote. Only FDI will go. "
During the debate on FDI in retail earlier in the House today, the JD(U), which is a key constituent of the BJP-led NDA coalition, urged the government to roll back FDI, saying the party was neither in favour of a vote nor did it want the government to fall. "If we wanted to make the government fall, we could have backed the Trinamool-sponsored motion but we did not...let us not have a vote...otherwise people of India will make you pay," said party president Sharad Yadav. (Read: Reconsider FDI decision, JD(U) tells government)
The JD(U), significantly, has not aligned with its ally BJP over disruptions in Parliament that the session has witnessed so far, instead favouring a debate on the issue.
The Left joined the JD(U) in asking the government to reconsider its decision on allowing FDI in retail. "For the cause of Walmart, the PM of a country of 120 crores is ready to sacrifice the government. Is it so important?" said CPI's Gurudas Dasgupta.
There were heated arguments yesterday after Ms Swaraj slammed the government for what she said was a policy that would allow big supermarkets to "swallow small retailers." She also objected to the government not building political consensus despite promising to take along all parties on the major reform and ended her fiery argument, replete with political jibes at the Congress and its top leadership, by saying, "we don't want to win by defeating you, we want to win by convincing you."
Senior minister Kapil Sibal countered Mr Swaraj's accusations point by point, saying FDI would be introduced only in 18 states and state governments could choose whether or not to implement it. Accusing the Opposition of exaggerating the evils of FDI, he said it had no right to force its opposition on chief ministers who wanted to implement FDI in retail.
Mr Sibal said FDI would be introduced only in 53 cities that had a population over 10 lakhs. Mulayam Singh Yadav cornered him in that saying, "If you are convinced that this policy will help the people, why introduce it only towns with population over 10 lakhs? It's because these big foreign companies don't want to go to smaller towns as they will not earn as much." Mr Yadav, who provides crucial external support to the UPA government, warned that a policy like FDI in retail would give the opposition an advantage and appealed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, "There is Gandhi in your name...remember what he said...you are forgetting Swadeshi and getting in Videshi." (Read: FDI in retail in favour of farmers, says Kapil Sibal
The government reckons that even if both the SP and the BSP choose to abstain from voting today, the halfway mark will come down to 251 from 273 and it will sail through. With the avowed support of all its allies in government, including the DMK, which opposes FDI in retail, but says it will honour its partnership, the UPA has 261 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha will begin debating the issue on tomorrow and will vote on Friday. In the Rajya Sabha, the government is in a distinct minority and will need more active support from the SP and the BSP. The Upper House has a strength of 244. Along with its allies, the UPA has a strength of 94 members. The 10 nominated members may go ahead to vote with the government. Among the seven Independents, three or four may support the government. Still, the ruling coalition may have to persuade outside supporters BSP (15) and SP (9) to vote with the government. The government is said to be talking to smaller groups too in the Rajya Sabha to make up numbers.