Sometime between Tuesday and Tuesday this week, the Congress-led UPA government is likely to face the vote in Parliament on FDI in retail. And it is a numbers game. Says Coal Minister Srikant Jaiswal: “A decision has been taken, the government is ready to discuss FDI-in-retail under Rule 184.’’ In other words, it is ready to place the destiny of the coalition on the floor of the House on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pet project of opening up domestic retail to foreign direct investment, reportedly to provide back-end ‘cold storage services’ to the ailing farming sector. Congress party sources said that treasury bench managers are confabulating with various political parties to cobble up the numbers, before the politically savvy new Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Kamal Nath, commits himself to a debate with voting at the all-party meet on Monday afternoon.
FDI-in-retail has already cost Parliament the first two days of the Winter Session. Sources told The Sunday Standard that the leaders of the Opposition in both houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, told Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Friday in no uncertain terms that the entire session would be washed out unless the issue is voted upon in Parliament. In case things don’t turn out favourably for the Congress at the all-party meeting, and the Opposition demands a resolution which is unacceptable to the government—voting may be shelved.
“No government will agree to a discussion in Parliament at gunpoint, but we cannot allow another wasted session—that also damages investor confidence,’’ says a Congress minister. He concedes that this is precisely what the Opposition may want to achieve. “They are trying to send the message that the country is divided on FDI-in-retail.’’ Apart from a numerical victory, the government is hoping for a moral win as well.
It was CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury who first hinted in Parliament on Friday that the government may give in to the Opposition demand for a vote on FDI.
- Sunday Standard