New Delhi: Opposition parties have promised to attack the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on corruption, misgovernance and policy initiatives such as allowing foreign investment in supermarkets, indicating both that the government will find the going tough in the winter session of Parliament that starts on 22 November and that little work is likely to get done during the session.
Worse, with the opposition parties banding together, the government will have to ensure it gets its parliamentary arithmetic right—not the easiest thing to do at a time when crucial ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has refused to publicize its stand on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail ahead of the session. “Let DMK’s stand remain a suspense,” party chief M. Karunanidhi told reporters in Chennai. “Only a movie with suspense does well.”
On Wednesday, a day after the communist parties said they would seek a vote on the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail, main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the opposition’s strategy will be coordinated.
“The BJP will strongly oppose the government decision on FDI in multi-brand retail in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. This decision is not in the nation’s interest,” party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding BJP will discuss its strategy with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners and get in touch with parties which have reservations on the issue.
Meanwhile, Karunanidhi said his party would continue to protect the interests of traders and small vendors, who oppose the move to allow foreign investment in multi-brand retail.
The two so-called friendly parties extending outside support to the ruling alliance—the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—have opposed the move to allow foreign retail firms invest in supermarkets in India. Their support is crucial for UPA in Parliament after the exit of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which had withdrawn support over the same issue and an increase in the prices of fuel products.
The Congress and its key allies, including the DMK, have 243 seats in the 544-member Lok Sabha. BSP has 21 and SP, 22. Given that math, any coordinated activity by parties opposing foreign investment in retail will be dangerous for the government, said political analysts.
“A common strategy among the opposition would be dangerous for the government. It will be a problem if the ruling party does not keep its allies together. If they lose the vote, if it happens, it will be a setback for the government. It’s a tight situation,” said Balveer Arora, a Delhi-based political analyst and former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
His reference is to the vote most opposition parties have said they will force on the FDI in retail issue.
The winter session is scheduled to end on 20 December.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) on Wednesday gave a notice for a debate on FDI in retail under rule 184, which allows a vote after the discussion. Pointing out that the Indian retail sector is the second largest employer in the country and provides jobs to around 40 million people in the unorganized sector, the CPM said the entry of multinational giants will have a disastrous effect. The CPM will meet other communist parties on 16 November to finalize their strategy and is likely to move another motion on inflation, seeking adjournment of the proceedings; the passage of this could be a major embarrassment to the government. CPM leader and Lok Sabha member Basudeb Acharya has said his party will approach both SP and BSP for floor cooperation on the issue.
Still, the BJP is not yet clear on how far it will go against the government in Parliament. Though it claims to have the support of a majority of members in both Houses on the issue, it is unlikely to press for a vote on the issue, news agency Press Trust of India said.
Asked if the BJP and the NDA, the larger coalition of which it is a part, would rally behind Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in case it seeks a division of votes to embarrass the government, the opposition party said it will decide its future course of action in a scheduled NDA meeting.
The speaker in the Lok Sabha and the chairman in the Rajya Sabha can deny permission to move a motion on the issue. The government does have the right to bring FDI in multi-brand retail through an executive order and it requires no parliamentary approval.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said the government is ready for a discussion in Parliament. “We are ready to face any motion on the floor of the House. We want Parliament to function,” Alvi said. “FDI in multi-brand retail is good for the country and the common man.”
However, he added that a decision on the kind of debate to be allowed—with voting, or without—would be taken by the speaker.
The NDA is likely to hold a meeting on 21 November, a day before Parliament meets for the winter session. The government has been maintaining that it wants a productive Parliament session because several key legislations, including those related to the right to food and land acquisition, are pending.
To ensure support for its legislative business and a smooth functioning of the session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met both Mulayam Singh, SP chief, and Mayawati, leader of the BSP, over the weekend.
Small parties could try to maintain their individuality when it comes to voting on a specific issue, Arora said.
The BJP has also mounted its attack on Singh and other Congress leaders on the issue of irregularities in coalfield allocations and various other scandals. Both the BJP and the communist parties said they would also raise the issue of alleged irregularities in the land deals of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
PTI contributed to this story.