Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath met senior BJP leaders - Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley - today to end the logjam on FDI in retail, a day after the UPA firmed up its numbers in Parliament.
"All parties wanted Parliament to run smoothly," Kamal Nath said after the meeting. "But a larger number (of political parties) are not concerned whether the discussion (on FDI) is held with voting or without voting," added the minister after his talks with Leaders of Opposition in both houses The talks, Kamal Nath said, were part of the effort to ensure that the two Houses functioned smoothly."We have left the decision with the Speaker," he added.
"Presiding officers should take any decision they want in the interest of running Parliament," Mr Kamal Nath said.
Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj asked why the government was not going ahead with voting on the contentious issue if it was confident of its numbers.
"We have clearly said that the Parliament will function only after a debate under Rule 184 and we are requesting the same today. The PM (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) has said that he is confident of getting the majority and that the DMK is also supporting the government...if the numbers are in your favour then why don't you go for voting on the issue?" she quipped.
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."
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.(with inputs from Agencies)