All-party meet fails to break FDI deadlock

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Divide over foreign investment in multibrand retail continues

An all-party meeting on Monday failed to break the political deadlock over foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail.

The Congress-led ruling UPA shied away from a Lok Sabha vote on the key reform, and the main opposition led by BJP insisted on a debate and a vote.

The four left parties, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) were among a dozen parties that insisted on a debate and vote under rule 184.

The meeting, chaired by parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, went on for two hours but failed to come to an understanding whereby Parliament could work normally.

The current winter session was a washout for the third day, as the FDI divide continued, with the government ‘not yet ready’ for a vote on the question of FDI in multibrand retail.

Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Mayawati’s BSP and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party indicated they were not keen on a vote, though not welcoming foreign retail chains.

In the inevitable numbers game in case of a vote the UPA is increasingly confident FDI in retail will pass muster. Congress president Sonia Gandhi will chair a meeting of the UPA coordination committee on Tuesday to finalise its strategy.

A debate under rule 184 of the Lok Sabha entails a vote. Even of the vote is lost the government is in no danger of falling.

But a defeat will certainly cause acute embarrassment to the ruling coalition ahead of elections in some states.

UPA floor managers pin hopes on a breakaway group of BJP in Karnataka headed by former chief minister Yeduyurappa who has the backing of seven members in the House. Similarly, divisions within the JD(U) may see four of its members backing the UPA government.

But old DMK led by Karunanidhi remains suspect in the eyes of UPA. It is reportedly trying to push a barter by which it wants its members to be cleared of wrong-doing charges in the telecom scandal.

DMK has insisted on a full debate on the CAG report on telecom in the light of a former official publicly saying that he did not agree with the presumptive loss of Rs 1,76,000 crore to the government.

Mayawati has been pushing for job reservations for scheduled tribes and castes in private sector.

On the other side, the opposition parties insisting on a vote cannot take Trinamool support for granted. The party’s leader Mamata Banerjee is miffed that no opposition party, barring the Biju Janata Dal, backed her move for a no-trust vote against the UPA government.

BJP is adamant. “There can be no compromise on rule 184,” said Sushma Swaraj, opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. Sharad Yadav, chairman of NDA, has taken the same stand. Akali Dal, in power in Punjab, and Shiv Sena, both constituents of NDA, also want a vote.

Congress and its chief floor manager Kamal Nath, said, “We are not shying away from a vote. We need to respect the other parties sentiments as well.”

Leaders of RJD, BSP and SP want to leave it to speaker Meira Kumar the decision to have a vote or not.

The deadlock threatens the passage of other reforms too. Key bills for the banking, insurance and pension sectors apart from taxation are pending. Bills that will allow higher FDI in insurance and pension may become a casualty if the issue over FDI in retail is not resolved amicably.

Opposition parties have a new handle: the finance ministry investigation of allegations that Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, violated foreign exchange rules when it invested $100 million in a domestic unit owned by its wholesale joint-venture partner Bharti Enterprises.

Bharti has suspended its chief financial officer in a separate internal investigation into alleged violations of US anti-bribery laws.

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