As I write this, Parliament has again been adjourned, on the second day of the winter session. The opposition wants a vote on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail and will not allow any legislative business to be undertaken (like, for example, placing the draft Lokpal bill in Parliament) till this happens. The government claims that parliamentary rules don’t allow such a vote, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says this is bunkum.
I am hardly a parliamentary procedures expert, but let us assume for a moment that the BJP is right, that executive orders can be challenged and put to the vote in Parliament. If the vote does take place, it is possible that the government will lose. This will not bring down the government, but it will certainly be a massive loss of face. But that is not really the point. If every executive order is challenged in Parliament and put to the vote, no government will be able to function. And if the opposition does not allow Parliament to function unless its demand for a vote is accepted, like what is happening right now, we have a potentially ruinous precedent being set.
I do not believe that allowing FDI in retail will be that wondrous miracle Indian farmers have been waiting for decades, that it will, in one stroke, solve half the problems that plague the agricultural sector. But I am completely unable to understand how some foreign money will wreak havoc, when Wal-Mart is hardly going to do anything different from what, say, a Reliance has been doing for years now, sourcing produce directly from farmers. I also don’t believe that a Wal-Mart will kill every small grocer, like the doomsayers predict. We heard all this in the mid-90s when McDonald’s was being allowed in. Last time I checked, our Agarwal Sweet Homes and Udipis were doing very well indeed, right next to the McDonald’s outlets. The objections against FDI in retail are at best, based on illogic, and at worst—which is true for the BJP—utterly cynical political opportunism.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was all for FDI in retail, and in fact, the policy announced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is much more cautious than what the NDA had envisioned. Quite simply, it gives each state government the power to allow or disallow FDI in its state. So there’s really no point in even a debate, forget a vote, is there? Or does the BJP fear that a few of its own state governments or those run by allies (for example, the Akalis) will opt for FDI and make its leaders in Delhi look stupid?
Forget the Trinamool Congress, whose raison d’etre is to oppose anything and everything. But as the principal opposition party, the BJP is setting a very dangerous precedent. And given that it has more brilliant lawyers and more experienced parliamentarians than any other party, it is doing so knowingly. Maybe it’s pure desperation, since if UPA has been the most slipshod government in Indian history, the BJP as opposition has also let Indian democracy down more than any other opposition party in history, in these years of the UPA rule. By holding the country’s legislature to ransom by opposing a policy it itself espoused some years back, it is giving up all pretence to any ideology or principle. Moreover, it is telling every political party that you can go to any length to challenge any executive order.
Some day the BJP may come back to power. Does it believe that the Congress won’t then pay it back in its own coin? How does it see any government functioning effectively after this? The BJP finds itself bereft of ideas and anything substantial to say, so it has decided that it won’t allow anyone else to say or do anything either. This is irresponsible politics at its worst.