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If one adds up the number of MPs in the Lok Sabha belonging to political parties that have a stated position against FDI in retail trade, it will certainly be bigger than the number of MPs in favour of FDI. Actually, the figure goes well past the Lok Sabha majority mark of 272. Yet the resolution opposing FDI received only 218 votes in favour; 253 MPs voted against the resolution. Had the Samajwadi Party and the BSP—which together have 43 seats in the Lok Sabha—not walked out after registering their opposition to retail FDI, the resolution would have passed. To argue that NDA constituents—such as the Akali Dal—are in favour of FDI in retail but voted against it due to “political compulsions” does not make much sense, because the same holds for UPA constituents like the DMK or most of the Congress MPs from Kerala, who voted against the resolution out of similar “compulsions”. While the fate of the number game in the Rajya Sabha is even more precariously poised, one won’t be surprised if these dubious “compulsions” come into play once again.
There is something very sinister about these “compulsions”, which is preventing the popular will from being reflected on the floor of Parliament. Take the case of Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Their argument that voting for the resolution opposing FDI in retail trade would amount to strengthening the communal forces is patently bogus. FDI in retail is a livelihood issue, where at least one-fifth of the Indian population have a direct stake, given the fact that retail trade sector is the second largest employer in India after agriculture. A large proportion of the small unorganised retailers in India also belong to the Muslim community.
Moreover, both the BSP and the Samajwadi Party have done business with the BJP in the past. The BSP ran governments in Uttar Pradesh with the BJP’s support thrice—in 1995, 1997 and 2002—while the Samajwadi Party lined up with the BJP-backed NDA candidate, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, in the 2002 presidential elections. A former BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, was also an active campaigner for the Samajwadi Party in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Over 100 communal clashes have occurred annually in Uttar Pradesh under the BSP’s rule and the incidence has risen alarmingly under the Samajwadi Party’s rule in recent times. In comparison, how would have voting in favour of a resolution opposing FDI in retail in the Lok Sabha along with the BJP made them culpable of aiding communalism? Is it the case that all the non-NDA parties like the Left parties, TMC, AIADMK, TDP or BJD become communal because they have voted for the motion? It was after all not a no-confidence motion, but a resolution opposing a specific policy decision of the government of the day. The passage of the anti-FDI in retail resolution would not have led to the collapse of the government, but would have certainly made it difficult to implement FDI in retail. One should be clear that what the Samajwadi Party and BSP have done is not to save a “secular” government but to facilitate the implementation of the retail FDI policy through subterfuge.
Had the resolution passed, the credit would not have necessarily gone to the BJP. If there was one irrefutable argument that came from the Congress side during the Lok Sabha debate, it was about the brazen double standards being adopted by the BJP—they had vocally espoused the pro-FDI retail position during the NDA’s tenure and are opposing it now for the sake of it. The BJP’s heart, given its overall position on economic policies, is certainly not in opposing FDI in retail. The irony is that during the NDA’s tenure, the Congress, as the main opposition party, had also opposed FDI in retail vociferously.
Had the anti-retail FDI resolution been passed, the smaller parties who have been most consistent in their opposition—particularly the Left or even the SP/BSP—could have legitimately claimed credit. Rather, what the Congress on the one hand and the SP/BSP on the other have successfully done is to facilitate the passage of a policy against popular will, by cynically playing the “communal versus secular” card on an issue which has little to do with communalism or secularism. By this warped logic, any opposition to the Congress-led government’s economic policies—or its impact in rising corruption, inflation and external vulnerability—would amount to supporting the BJP or communalism! It is such skulduggery that trivialises the secular cause and, what is worse, threatens to erode the credibility of Indian democracy.
(The writer resigned from the CPI(M) in June to protest against its decision to support the Congress-led UPA’s candidate in the last presidential election.)