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‘Rollback’ BJP betrays FDI dilemma
Dismay in private at party threat

Surajkund (Haryana), Sept. 26: The BJP today restated its blanket opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail and hinted that it could scrap the decision if it came to power.

Briefing the media on the first day of the three-day national executive council, general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad quoted BJP president Nitin Gadkari as stating in his inaugural speech: “I categorically oppose FDI in retail.”

Gadkari, according to Prasad, claimed the move was not in the interests of the country and its farmers.

BJP sources present at the closed-door session said Gadkari virtually declared a do-or-die war against the Centre. He stressed the “battle” must force the UPA government not only to rescind the retail FDI move but also the diesel price hike and the LPG subsidy phase-out.

Sources said Gadkari, apparently chuffed by the “success” of the Opposition’s recent all-India “bandh”, urged the members to sustain the BJP’s “bonding” with the Left, DMK and other parties on economic issues.

Asked if the BJP was opposed to retail FDI per se or the 51 per cent quantum, Prasad was cryptic. “Wait for our manifesto, 51 per cent or 0 per cent,” he said.

Later, chatting with journalists, he added: “We are against retail FDI per se.”

Quizzed if the BJP would cancel the decision if it came to power, Prasad replied: “If we come to power, the consequences will follow.” He didn’t amplify if the warning meant a rollback or a lesser FDI quantum.

If it comes to power, the BJP can overturn the executive decision taken by the Congress. But it may be difficult if retail giants like Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco win approvals from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board and establish their retailing entities with a 51 per cent majority stake.

Walmart has already indicated that it will be in a position to open a store with its name emblazoned across the front by the second half of 2013. That would be at least six months before the next general election, assuming the UPA lasts its term.

In a democracy, the basic principle of governance is that the new regime assumes responsibility for the actions of the previous government —however abhorrent they might be — and honours all its obligations in the spirit of continuity.

The executive decision on retail FDI can be overturned as long as Walmart and Tesco have not opened their stores. But if these retail giants do, it might be hard to avoid protracted litigation should the BJP decide to stick to its guns.

It must also be kept in mind that the BJP-led NDA regime had prepared a cabinet note seeking to allow FDI in retail but could not push it through before it was voted out of power in 2004.

So, in its zeal to score brownie points over the Congress on every issue coming its way, the BJP might have tied itself in knots.

Lest the party be perceived as anti-reform and anachronistic, Prasad “clarified” that the BJP was not against reforms and foreign investments.

He recalled that as I&B minister in the NDA government, he had opened the doors for FDI in media and helped domestic media companies.

Another BJP leader claimed his party could not be bracketed with the Left because the latter had rejected FDI per se. The BJP, on the other hand, favoured foreign investments in high tech sectors and infrastructure, the leader said.

Privately, several executive members admitted they were “dismayed” with the BJP’s “opportunistic” stand.

“Gadkari seems to be taking his dictation from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters). This selective opposition to FDI makes no economic or political sense. Don’t our leaders realise the gains it will bring farmers?” asked a member.

It was the pressure brought on the Akali Dal in Punjab by farmers’ lobbies that forced deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal to issue a quasi defence of the decision.

Badal, who runs a coalition government with the BJP, said the Prime Minister should have taken all stakeholders into confidence before announcing the decision and not given the impression that he was batting for Walmart.

For the record, Prasad said the NDA was one in opposing retail FDI.