SP, BSP skip voting to save the day for UPA

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Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) saved the day for UPA government enabling it to win the Lok Sabha vote for 51 per cent FDI in retail sector.

However, a bigger test awaits the government in Rajya Sabha where it is in a hopeless minority when it takes up the debate on FDI in retail trade on Thursday.

Both, SP and BSP members in the Lower House trooped out noisily ahead of the vote thereby giving the Manmohan Singh-led UPA numbers to get its major reform measure through.

After a two-day intense debate between members of 18 political parties, the Lok Sabha rejected a motion moved by opposition leader Sushma Swaraj asking the government to withdraw its decision on allowing foreign direct investments in $450-billion retail trade.

The 253-members from Congress, NCP of Sharad Pawar, RJD of Lalu Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh and 18 others voted for FDI in retail trade.

The 218-members from BJP-led national democratic alliance (NDA), left parties, AIADMK of Jayalalithaa, Trinamool Congress of Mamta Banerjee and about 20 others opposed the move to open up the retail sector to MNCs companies like IKEA, Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour.

Tension in treasury benches could be witnessed in the run up to the vote as both BSP and Samajwadi Party kept the UPA ‘guessing’ till the end.

Though, both BSP and SP members walked out before the crucial vote in Lok Sabha, they voiced their opposition to FDI in retail trade.

BSP and SP siding with Congress on FDI hints at prospect of both parties vying for tie up with the grand old party in Uttar Pradesh and half a dozen other northern states in Lok Sabha elections slated for 2014.

Without tacit support and staged walk out by BSP and SP, the government would have lost the vote on FDI in retail sector as it won by just 35 votes. Even if it would have lost in vote under rule 184, there was no threat to centre’s stability, but only serious embarrassment and censure of the government.

BSP and SP backing UPA also points to the possible beginning of realignment in political forces in a run-up to next Lok Sabha polls. Interestingly enough, Janata Dal - Secular led by former prime minister Deve Gowda voted with the opposition for first time in years. JD-S and Congress are in the midst of negotiating a deal for jointly putting up a fight against ruling BJP in Karnataka.

Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy’s motion seeking to omit 51 per cent FDI in FEMA notification also fell by 39 votes. This motion does not mean amendment to FEMA act as such, but a sub-ordinate legislation.

Earlier, winding up the two-day debate, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said states were given flexibility to either allow or prohibit foreign retail chains to set up shop in their respective areas.

He appealed to opposition parties not to spread fear amongst the stakeholders and asserted that interests of small traders were adequately protected with safeguards in FDI policy.

Sharma also scoffed at hints of corruption or bribery made by opposition leader Sushma Swaraj referring to reported pressure from MNCs and the Obama administration for opening up retail sector.

Meanwhile, the industry welcomed the Lok Sabha approval to FDI in retail trade. “It is a welcome development. We fully support the government on the issue. The country needs to move forward. We need to send a strong signal to foreign investors,” said Ficci president R V Kanoria.

CII director general Chabdrajeet Banerjee said, “ The approval will boost the government’s confidence to implement key economic reforms. This will definitely help government to pass other important and pending reform measures very quickly.”

Pantaloon Retail India joint managing director Rakesh Biyani described the Lok Sabha approval as a “welcome development”. He hoped that the policy will be implemented soon. FDI will be good for the Indian retail sector.

Assocham president Rajkumar Dhoot said that the move “would become a milestone in the economic reforms saga. The economy in particular and the nation as a whole will derive lot of benefit from this move.”


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