New Delhi: Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee on Friday said she will not bring down the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, but reiterated that her party cannot support the Union cabinet’s decision to allow larger participation of foreign store chains in domestic retail ventures.
The move is seen as protecting TMC’s domestic constituency by not yielding political space to the opposition Left parties.
Reform debate: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. By PTI
With consensus over the issue eluding the ruling allies and the opposition parties, both Houses of Parliament were adjourned for the ninth consecutive day. They are scheduled to reconvene on 7 December.
Opposition parties have been disrupting proceedings seeking a reversal of the 24 November decision to allow 51% FDI in multi-brand retail, saying the move will hamper the interests of small retailers. The cabinet has also approved 100% FDI in single-brand retail, removing the earlier 51% cap on this. To get his agitated allies to back the decision, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spoken to West Bengal chief minister and asked her to discuss the matter with her party colleagues again.
“I told him that we don’t want the government to be toppled on this issue. This is a very sensitive issue. But at the same time, it is not possible for us to support FDI entry into retail. I am sorry,” the TMC chief told reporters after an administrative meeting in Hooghly district.
Banerjee, however, said she will discuss the matter again in the party. TMC, a crucial ally of the Congress in the UPA, has 18 members in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress-led government has not agreed to an adjournment motion—a debate followed by a vote that could lead to the censure of the government—sought by the opposition as it has a razor-thin majority in the lower House and is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
Banerjee urged the Prime Minister to review and reverse the decision on FDI.
“If necessary, the government should talk to all UPA partners and seek suggestions, and ensure that the move is withdrawn,” she said in Hooghly, pointing out that her party’s stand against such moves was declared in its manifesto released before the April-May assembly election.
Banerjee was addressing her domestic constituency, said Subrata Mukherjee, political analyst and former professor at the department of political science in Delhi University.
“Her basic politics is to corner the Left and national politics is less important to her. That’s why Banerjee, who was silent on corruption issues such as second-generation spectrum allocation irregularities, is vocal when it comes to the issues on which the Communists can mobilize people,” Mukherjee said.
Despite criticism by the opposition, friendly parties, allies as well as a section of the Congress itself, Singh and his party are standing by the move. The party stated it was a “well thought-out decision”. Singh said the decision will bring “modern technology to the country, improve rural infrastructure, reduce wastage of agricultural produce and enable our farmers to get better price for their crops”.
On Friday, addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government was hopeful of finding a consensus over the issue through discussions.
Meanwhile, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati, whose 21 Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) members back the UPA from outside, also attacked the government over the reform move. In a statement issued in Lucknow, the BSP said the entire country was opposed to FDI in retail because it will be a blow to millions of small traders, farmers and people dependent on retail and agriculture for employment. The BSP accused Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who has been aggressively campaigning in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, of trying to “divert public attention from the price rise and corruption under the UPA regime by giving his nod to FDI in retail”. It reiterated that the party will not allow FDI in retail in the state.
At a meeting with ministers from Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi urged his colleagues to focus on the irregularities in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the state. According to a person familiar with the development, the Congress general secretary said FDI will not be an electoral issue in Uttar Pradesh.
PTI contributed to this story.