With an over 20-vote win in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, the UPA Government broke the wall of parliamentary resistance against 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, thus opening the doors to the likes of Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco.
But, the UPA victory in the Upper House would have been impossible without the crucial 15 votes that Mayawati’s BSP cast against the Opposition motion moved by AIADMK’s V Maitreyan on Thursday.
Contrary to speculations, the government easily crossed the half-way mark of 123 in the House as against the 109 votes (the number later came down to 102 on rechecking) that the Opposition camp could garner in favour of the motion.
But the gulf between the respectable tally the UPA posted and the anti-FDI speeches that dominated the two-day discussion had Maitreyan quipping: “Vast majority of the members of the House is opposed to the policy… so one can say (Commerce Minister) Anand Sharma loses and (Parliamentary Affairs Minister) Kamal Nath wins”, implying that the UPA Government won the debate through floor management skills and not with the support from real policybackers.
Coming out of the House, a disappointed BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu spoke in the same vein calling the vote a “moral victory of the Opposition”.
Nonetheless, an upbeat Kamal Nath — quite the hero of the day — countered it by saying “the government’s reform agenda is back on track”.
There were nail-biting moments though. Anand Sharma had to stretch his reply for nearly 90 minutes (without counting the adjournment in between) to allow the treasury benches to be filled up.
Ironically, Defence Minister A K Antony and Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar — the left-of-the-centre voices in the ruling side — were the last to come in.
As the main speaker from the government end, Sharma tore into the Opposition, especially Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, after it was said that his FDI policy did not have the support of the House even if the final vote went in the government’s favour.
“If we are a minority government, let them (the Opposition) bring a non-confidence motion,” he said.
His confidence came from the 15 votes pledged by Mayawati and the convenient walkout by the nine-member Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav.
As for the 10 nominated members, most of them, except Sachin Tendulkar who was absent, voted in favour of the government.
So did the six independents. Rekha — the Bollywood star of yesteryears — got all assistance from fellow colleagues, including those from the Opposition, on how to vote.
But, the biggest surprise was the absence of senior Telugu Desam Party members Gundu Sudharani, D Gaud and Y S Chawdhury in the House.
Sixteen other MPs, including ailing Murli Deora (Congress), were absent during the voting.