Senior minister Kapil Sibal will meet DMK chief M Karunanidhi in Chennai on Sunday to try and ensure that the southern ally does not ditch it. At a dinner hosted by the PM for allies last week, the DMK had suggested that a vote be avoided as its political constituency in Tamil Nadu is vociferously against FDI in retail; they say it will harm small retailers. The DMK is now the second-largest party in the UPA after the Congress - it adds 18 Lok Sabha MPs to the kitty.
The first two days of the Winter Session saw no work transacted. The opposition, led by the BJP, has insisted that it will not allow Parliament to function if the government doesn't allow a vote.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram met Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj this evening and sought their support in passing bills his ministry has pending in Parliament. The BJP leaders reportedly told Mr Chidambaram that the government should commit to agreeing to their demands on FDI in retail before any other legislative business.
The Prime Minister met the BJP's top leadership over dinner last night to try and convince them to accept a discussion without vote, but failed. The government has what the PM described as a "heavy legislative agenda" planned for the short month-long session; it has lined up 25 bills including the Pensions Bill and the Lokpal Bill. An all-party meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Wednesday also failed to break the logjam.
The Left too has moved a motion on FDI in retail in Parliament under Rule 184, that requires a discussion and vote. If the government does give in the that demand, it will do so based on how the resolution that is put to debate and vote is worded, sources said. The opposition claims that the government has gone back on its promise in Parliament that it would consult all political parties before making a decision on FDI in multi-brand retail. It points to statements on this made in both houses of Parliament by senior ministers last year. The government is expected to contend that it did consult key stakeholders like chief ministers and political parties.
The UPA government has so far played to that script. It has resisted putting its big policy decision through a vote in Parliament, saying that it was an executive decision that does not require Parliament's approval.
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. Apart from the DMK, there are others like the Samajwadi Party, which provides external support that is crucial after Mamata Banerjee's exit in September plunged the government into a minority. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has been a vocal opponent of FDI in retail. His party has said it will not apply it in the state it rules - Uttar Pradesh. So Mr Yadav will find it difficult to support the government in a vote. His brother and senior party colleague Ram Gopal Yadav said yesterday that the SP wanted a discussion, vote or no vote.
The Trinamool Congress, which withdrew support to protest the UPA's reforms push, which included FDI in retail, tried yesterday to move a no-confidence motion against Manmohan Singh government, but could not get 50 MPs to support the motion. Both the BJP and Left had made it clear that they would not support her motion. Will she support theirs? The Congress will want to know.