The Trinamool Congress failed to get its No-Confidence Motion against the Manmohan Singh government accepted in the Lok Sabha today, a lack of numbers thwarting its effort.
When party leader Sudip Bandopadhyay stood up for the motion, only the 18 other MPs of his party and three MPs from the Biju Janata Dal stood in support. He needed the support of at least 50 for the motion to be accepted. (Read)
That out of the way, the government can now hunker down to battle the opposition on the Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail issue. A belligerent opposition has forced repeated adjournment of both Houses since the Winter Session began at 11 am today.
Both houses have now been adjourned for the day. In a bid to break the political impasse, the government has called for an all-party meeting on Monday.
The BJP-led NDA and the Left want a discussion on FDI in retail under a rule that allows voting. The Manmohan Singh government says it is ready to debate its policy decision but does not want a vote. Neither side is budging from its position; an all-party meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar yesterday failed to break the deadlock.
As House convened today, it was not just the NDA or Left that was up on its feet. The Trinamool shouted "no-confidence", the Shiv Sena demanded that their leader Bal Thackeray, who died last weekend, be duly honoured, the BSP raised the issue of quota in promotions and the SP condemned the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders.
After Trinamool's no confidence motion had been disallowed, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj demanded that the house debate the issue of FDI in retail under Rule 184 which allows voting. Amid further chaos, the house was adjourned for a third time.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clearly expected a heated start to the session. As he arrived at Parliament House this morning, Dr Singh said there was a "very heavy legislative agenda during the Winter Session. I seek cooperation from my colleagues in the House," adding, "We are ready to discuss all issues on the floor of both the Houses." The country, he said, faced "many economic problems" that called for "cohesive collective action" and he invited "all political parties to join hands in this vital national endeavour." He reminded the parties that they had "an obligation to work together." (Full text of the Prime Minister's statement)
In his efforts to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament he has invited top BJP leaders for dinner tonight. The government has listed 25 Bills for the session, including important ones like pension reforms, hike in FDI in the insurance sector and the Lokpal Bill among others.
The opposition has stacked up its ammunition and is ready for war. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj has submitted a notice on FDI in retail under Rule 184, which entails a discussion and vote. The Left too has asked for a debate under the same rule.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath today said a discussion of FDI in retail could well take place under Rule 193, which does not have a vote at the end of debate. "Opposition can't decide date and time of discussions in Parliament. We are ready to discuss FDI with BJP and others. The Parliamentary session should be carried out peacefully." He has also said that it's the Speaker's prerogative in the Lok Sabha to decide under what provision an issue should be debated. Mr Kamal Nath has argued, as has his colleague and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, that allowing FDI in multi-brand retail is an executive decision and the government is under no obligation to seek Parliament's approval.
The BJP's answer to that is a breach of privilege notice against Anand Sharma, submitted in the Rajya Sabha yesterday by party MPs Prakash Javadekar and Rajiv Pratap Rudy. The BJP MPs point out that Mr Sharma had, on December 7, 2011, assured the House that all stakeholders would be consulted before a decision was taken on the FDI issue. The BJP says that despite making this promise in both Houses of Parliament, the government went ahead unilaterally and allowed 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail. They quote Mr Sharma as having said in Parliament, "It is very clear that this policy, the enabling policy framework, is such that the states have discretion. Therefore, when we say consultation with the stakeholders, that include chief minister and states, and it certainly does not exclude, but includes, the political parties."
The Opposition has also lined up issues like hike in fuel prices, cap on LPG cylinders, the overall economic situation, distress of farmers, corruption and the alleged coal block allocation scam to attack the government.
The government says it is focused on ensuring a session in which Parliament functions; the last two session were virtual washouts with very little work done as the Opposition forced adjournment after adjournment on issues like coal scam. Congress spokesman PC Chacko said, "Hope the Opposition does not adopt stalling tactics today like the previous two sessions," and added, "if the Opposition wants to defeat the government, let them get a no confidence motion. Why does the Opposition want to defeat the government through some dubious method?"
That challenge is backed by numbers. After a series of meals - dinners and one lunch - the PM is reportedly sanguine that he will sail through a no-confidence motion; with the external support of the Samajwadi Party's 22 Lok Sabha MPs and the BSP's 21, the UPA government has a bit over 300 MPs, safely clear of the 273-seat halfway mark. Opposition parties like the BJP and the Left have the same calculation and so prefer to corner the government on FDI in retail. They expect parties like the SP and even UPA ally DMK to find it difficult to back the government on that vote - these parties have been vocal in their opposition to allowing big foreign supermarkets like Walmart to set up shop in India.