The deadlock over allowing FDI in India's retail market deepened Wednesday as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejected the government's plea for toning down its adjournment motion on the issue and the Congress ruling out rollback of the cabinet decision.
BJP leader L.K. Advani conveyed to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the wording of the adjournment motion moved by the BJP on FDI in retail was non-negotiable, informed sources said.
At the end of the day, marked by intense political activity, Mukherjee called up Advani in another bid to end the deadlock over the FDI in multi-brand retail, but failed to make any headway, ensuring another day of logjam in parliament that began its winter session Nov 22.
Advani made it clear that the only way to go was to follow the suggestion given by Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, at the all-party meeting, chaired by Mukherjee, Tuesday.
Sushma Swaraj had suggested at the meeting that the government should roll back its decision on the FDI in retail and start a discussion on price rise before this issue was cleared by the union cabinet.
The latest move by Mukherjee to break the deadlock came even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to leaders of allies Trinamool Congress and DMK after attending a meeting of the Congress core committee to find a way out of the impasse in parliament on the FDI issue.
According to Congress sources, Manmohan Singh explained to leaders of the DMK and Trinamool, each of which have 18 Lok Sabha MPs, the need to avoid a political crisis over the FDI issue.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari confirmed the contact with the key allies but did not take any names. "It is a matter of coordination between us," Tewari said.
Sources said the Congress strategy will be to ensure that the DMK and Trinamool MPs do not vote against the government if an adjournment motion that entails vote on FDI comes up in parliament.
The sources said the DMK has conveyed to the Congress that it would not vote against the government in parliament. The Congress is trying to win over the Trinamool.
Various traders' organisations have called for nationwide protests Thursday over the decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. However, industry lobbies like the CII and the FICCI have extended full support to the cabinet decision.
Despite tough opposition from the BJP and the Left parties, the Congress ruled out reversing the decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail and 100 percent in single-brand retail.
"The prime minister has made it clear that it is a well thought-out decision and the party supports it," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters.
Undeterred by the united opposition's onslaught on the FDI retail issue, the Congress declared that the government has the numbers in Parliament to face any adjournment motion.
"We have the numbers. We would not have done it without counting our flock," party spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters. "This hair-splitting (about numbers) is not necessary, not called for," he said.
"As far as allies are concerned, we are talking to them. At the end of the day you will find a very constructive resolution of the entire process," he said when asked whether he was sure of the support of DMK and TMC.
Besides the opposition from outside, the Congress is also fighting a war within. At least two MPs have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to reverse the decision.
Mukherjee, the Congress' troubleshooter, held a brief meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence before meeting party MPs to allay their apprehensions on the decision, sources said.
Top leaders of the Congress, including Manmohan Singh and Gandhi, went into a huddle to discuss how to resolve the crisis. The meeting of the Congress core group was held at the prime minister's 7, Race Course Road official residence.
The party sources said that the highest decision making body of the party ruled out any question of withdrawing the decision or diluting it substantially. At the most, minor compromises like raising the cap on purchase from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may be accepted, informed sources told IANS about the meeting.
As the Congress refused to budge, the BJP has demanded that normal business be suspended to focus on FDI with a strongly worded adjournment motion demanding revocation of the retail reforms. "If the government even wants to suggest they want to change the wording of the adjournment motion moved by me, I am making it clear there will be no change," said the BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi.