Belying its confidence of having allies on board on the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail, major political parties Tuesday slammed the economic move in parliament, terming it anti-people and a sell out to multi-nationals. The UPA countered saying states were free to choose whether to implement it and termed the debate "totally political".
The four-hour debate saw leaders from the main opposition BJP and Left, as well as allies Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and DMK, and erstwhile ally the Trinamool Congress, criticize the FDI in retail. The SP and BSP even invoked the name of Mahatma Gandhi and love for swadeshi to urge the Congress-led UPA government to roll back the policy that will see big multi-nationals like Wal-Mart and Carrefour set up shop in India.
With the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and the DMK speaking out against FDI in retail, this has put a question mark on which way the vote will go in parliament Wednesday.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj, initiating the debate in the Lok Sabha, said the government claim that foreign investment would benefit farmers, consumers and generate employment was a myth.
In a forceful speech that went on for more than an hour, the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha accused the government of having gone back on its promise of holding consultations before allowing FDI in retail.
"The PM makes bold statements like if we must go down, we'll go down fighting. You must Mr. PM, but fight for the poor, not the rich, fight for country, not multi-nationals, fight for small, not big."
The Trinamool Congress, which had walked out of the government in September over the move, said it would fight against the policy tooth and nail.
"It is a matter of faith for us," Trinamool leader Saugata Roy said.
In a speech dripping with sarcasm, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh said: "As far as FDI is concerned, how so ever much you explain, it is not in the country's favour."
He also said the UPA was mistaken if it thought the move would fetch it electoral gains. "You will not benefit from this even in elections…We may not come to power at the centre but we will support you, and take support from you as well."
The all-round criticism of the economic policy came on a day the Election Commission censured the government for announcing its "game changer" direct cash transfer scheme. The poll panel asked it to defer its implementation in poll bound states of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
The government has been wooing Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has 22 MPs in the lower house, to vote in favour of the UPA. He has always opposed FDI in retail, but said he was against "communal forces" coming to power. The government wants both the SP and the BSP, with 21 MPs, to vote in favour or abstain when the motion is put to vote Wednesday. In case it loses, the government will not fall but will an face embarrassment.
The government has always been maintaining it "has the numbers" to support it in parliament.
The BSP's Dara Singh Chauhan echoed party chief Mayawati in saying they oppose FDI in retail but would not side with "communal forces".
Both the regional parties, otherwide rivals, invoked Mahatma Gandhi while expressing their reservations on FDI.
Mulayam Singh Yadav, pointing at Sonia Gandhi, said she shares her surname with the Father of the Nation and appealed to her to shelve the move as "Gandhi would not have allowed FDI in retail".
Taking up the government's stand in favour of the move, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said there was no compulsion on states to implement FDI in retail.
"If you don't want FDI in multi-brand retail, don't implement it. But what about the states where chief ministers want it, how can you stop them? This is a new definition of federal structure that one state will tell another that I will not implement it but will not let you do it either," Sibal said.
"This debate is not needed at all, it is a totally political debate," he said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist's Basudeb Acharia blamed the government for giving "false dreams" of generating employment with FDI in retail. "If Wal-Mart gives one employment, it will snatch 17 employments," he said.