Aditi Tandon, Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 4. Voices of dissent far outnumbered voices of support in the Lok Sabha which today debated for four-and-a -half hours the government’s controversial decision to permit 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail sector.
By the end of round one, which BJP’s firebrand leader Sushma Swaraj initiated in her trademark aggressive style demolishing the government’s defence of the decision, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a heavy take-home message not just from the Opposition but also friends like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the DMK – FDI is not good for the nation.
The depth of these assertions will, however, be tested tomorrow when the motion, moved by Swaraj under Rule 184 today, is put to vote. Though the DMK said that it would support the UPA in the vote despite being opposed to FDI, the SP and the BSP were silent. Swaraj’s motion reads, “I move that the government rolls back its decision to permit 51 per cent FDI in multi brand retail.”
At least in verbal opposition to FDI today, the BJP and Left had generous support with the lone voice in favour being that of Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal whom the Congress had fielded to defend the line that FDI is pro-farmer, pro-consumer, pro-growth and pro-employment. Sibal did well to counter Swaraj’s fierce contentions but not well enough to inspire the Opposition or even allies.
Just when he had finished to a thunderous applause led by none other than UPA chief Sonia Gandhi, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav rebutted, “We know you are a great lawyer. But no matter what you say, FDI is not in national interest.
It’s a fraud on India and will bring 20 crore people on roads. It is against Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘swadeshi’.”
Mulayam went ahead to caution Sonia against rolling out FDI and asked the PM to stay the decision for two years and gauge support for it. “These people (the BJP) are very smart. FDI won’t help you politically and they (the BJP) will come to power. Roll it back or hold it for two years. Sonia ji…remember your surname. Don’t forget swadeshi,” Mulayam admonished the UPA.
Clearly, Sibal’s argument (that the government’s decision was an enabling provision which gave states the freedom to open up to FDI or not) failed to cut ice with the Opposition. BSP leader Dara Singh Chauhan also decided to toe Swaraj’s line on FDI.
“We have not been able to give our farmers roads and electricity and we are talking FDI. Bring FDI in power, irrigation and aviation. The government is saying people will be employed but I see FDI as a conspiracy to take away the little money the poor have. It is an insult to Gandhi’s nationalist line,” Chauhan said.
If that was less, DMK’s TKS Elangovan openly rejected FDI, though he was honest enough to confess that his party would not vote against the UPA because the two allies were “brothers” and UPA could not be subjected to a “full body scan for a problem in the hand”.
Earlier initiating the debate, Swaraj questioned PM’s intentions behind pushing a move the rest of the world was rejecting. “We are afraid this decision also may have roots in corruption. Walmart, the world’s largest supermarket, is investigating bribery charges against its officials in India and has suspended six people.” Recalling PM’s statement that it was time for big bang reforms and he would go down fighting, she said, “Fight for the poor not rich, fight for your own people, not foreigners.”
Sushma’s speech was structured to appeal to the common man as she told the PM to bring FDI in infrastructure but leave the sale of “daal and chawal” to Indians. She questioned government’s claim that FDI was pro-consumer saying it would create a monopoly and read a 2008 declaration of EU Parliament which said supermarkets were forcing farmers to sell below cost price.
“If one apple in the pack is rotten, Walmart will return your entire consignment,” she told Commerce Minister Anand Sharma who hails from Shimla. Building an argument that China would benefit from FDI in India as supermarkets source 82% raw materials from China, she read out a December 6, 2002 letter of the PM where he assured a concerned party that the NDA Government was not planning to bring FDI.
“What made you change your mind?” she asked the PM – a question she was later asked by Sibal who read documents to show that the BJP supported FDI in retail in 2002 and again in 2004 but changed its mind later.
To read the full article, and possible outcomes of the vote go to :