Initiating the debate on the issue, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj contended that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha in 2002, had opposed FDI in retail and questioned as to what has changed that the government is so determined to implement it.
In her nearly 90-minute speech, punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Swaraj maintained that the concept of large supermarkets has failed in Western economies and wondered how the government was claiming it would create jobs in India.
She asserted that BJP was not opposed to FDI per se and as Leader of the Opposition she was willing to travel with the Prime Minister across the world to invite investments in other sectors like infrastructure. Singh was present when she spoke.
Appealing to parties like SP and BSP to support the motion moved by her and Khagen Das (CPI-M) against 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, Swaraj said any defeat during vote will not bring down the government but will force it to rollback the decision on FDI.
"Your fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded," she said turning to members of SP and BSP, which have so far maintained ambiguity over their stand on voting.
Pressing for rollback of the "disastrous" FDI decision, she told the government "hum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte (We don't want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you)," she said.
Swaraj said the decision to allow FDI in retail was not a step towards development but a leap into a ditch of "destruction."
Referring to statements made by the government that FDI in retail would empower consumers, she said large superstores will wipe out small retailers by first dropping prices and then charging higher prices once there is no competition.
Swaraj also said claims that farmers will benefit from the move was "baseless" as the experience of the European Union shows that farmers are forced to sell their produce below production cost to large retail chains.
"A fool learns from his own experience, while a wise man learns from the experience of others," she said.
She claimed that the most likely scenario would be that retail chains would not buy products from small and medium farmers at all and supported her contention by giving the example of Pepsi in Punjab which rejected locally produced potatoes and tomatoes as being below standards.
She said even McDonalds was importing potatoes from abroad and not buying the produce locally.
"You are from the state which produces apples...A local whole-seller would take out a damaged apple and sell the consignment. But the bigger chains will reject the entire consignment. When people will come to your doorsteps with their grievances, you won't be able to help them," Swaraj told Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.
The BJP leader said even US President Barack Obama is supporting the 'small business Saturday' campaign by going to small shops to support their business.
Swaraj used the debate to target Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who was present, on her statement that fastest pace of development has been witnessed by UPA-II government.
"Except for seven years, there had been Congress governments between 1952 and 2012...Were you challenging the government headed by your mother-in-law (Indira Gandhi) or the one headed by your husband (Rajiv Gandhi)," she posed.
"Who were you referring to," Swaraj asked.
Gandhi shot back saying she was referring to "you" (BJP).
She said when Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi was Congress Chief Whip during NDA rule, he had brought a Calling Attention Motionterming "alleged" moves by the then government for FDI in retail as "anti-national".
She said as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh had replied to a representative of a Maharashtra trade body that government has assured Parliament that there was no plan to bring FDI in retail.
"Pradhan Mantri ji, sonch kyon badal gayi? (Mr Prime Minister, what has prompted the change of mind)," she said in the presence of Singh, who did not respond.
During her speech, there were several occasions when opposition and treasury benches were involved in verbal duels, prompting leaders like Gandhi, L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to calm tempers.
On one occasion, Leader of the House and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde took objection to a BJP member "challenging" the Speaker.
Speaker Meira Kumar asked members not to get "over excited" while participating in the discussion.
Saugata Roy of TMC, who moved a motion to amend FEMA resolution allowing FDI in multi-brand retail, wanted to know why the government took important decisions concerning Indo-US civil nuclear deal and permitting FDI in multi-brand retail ahead of Presidential elections in the US.
Noting that Hillary Clinton was on the board of Walmart before joining the American government, he said, she was in India in May 2012 to make New Delhi agree to FDI in retail which would be beneficial for the US.
"Does the government of India have to respond to American urging?" Roy questioned.
His mention of the name of Clinton evoked sharp reaction from treasury benches with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid objecting to the remarks and wanted the Speaker to expunge them. Kumar ruled she would go through the records and remove them.
Roy said Khurshid was worried on two names - positively for Clinton and negatively for Arvind Kejriwal.
In a rare coming together of political foes, Roy found support from CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, who said, "Mr Khurshid is very much concerned about Mrs Clinton."
These remarks also evoked sharp reaction from Congress members including Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury who repeatedly shouted that TMC and CPI-M have come together.
"Are we selling our head for few pieces of sliver?", he said recalling words of Rabindranath Tagore who had described the decisive Battle of Plassey as sun set for Bengal.
"They (East India Company) came as traders and become Rajas. Is America coming through Walmart to capture Indian power", he asked.
Roy also said the government's decision to allow FDI in retail was based on two reports -- one by Planning Commission and the other by think-tank ICRIER. While the Plan panel is headed by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, ICRIER's chairperson is Isher Judge Ahluwalia, he said.
He also recalled that American cables leaked by Wikileaks did point out Clinton's keenness for appointment of Montek Singh Ahluwalia as Finance Minister instead of Pranab Mukherjee.