Belying the government's confidence of having its allies on board on FDI in multi-brand retail, major political parties Tuesday slammed the economic move in parliament, terming it anti-people and a sell-out to multinationals. The UPA countered by saying states were free to choose whether to implement the measure 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.
But Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said there was nothing to worry about.
"Let's not worry at all. Tomorrow 6 o'clock, everything will be clear and we will get the result," he told reporters.
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 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.
Starting the tirade against the government, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj, who initiated 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 FDI in retail, 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 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, otherwise 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 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.
But Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko expressed unhappiness over the debate, saying it was an "unhealthy precedent of putting an executive decision to vote."
"In principle, the issue has set an unhealthy precedent of putting an executive decision to vote by parliament. There was nothing illegal or unconstitutional in the decision to bring FDI in multi-brand retail and the government agreed to discus the issue under 184 only to ensure smooth running of parliament," Chacko.
The discussion in the parliament, which has been disrupted over the FDI issue since it began Nov 22, is being held under 184 that entails debate with voting rules.