Mamata Banerjee shakes the hand of NDA convener Sharad Yadav, who attended her anti-FDI rally in Delhi on Monday. As the Bengal chief minister was holding her protest, her Delhi counterpart Sheila Dikshit (right) addressed people outside her home along with commerce minister Anand Sharma. Pictures by Yasir Iqbal and Prem Singh
New Delhi, Oct. 1: The Congress leadership isn’t losing sleep over Mamata Banerjee’s violent rhetoric but her threat to pull down the Manmohan Singh government has triggered frenetic political activity within the ruling combine.
The Congress feels a no-confidence motion in the next session of Parliament in November could be a distinct possibility and suspects that Mulayam Singh Yadav had a tacit understanding with Mamata on this move. It is an open secret in political circles that only Mulayam and Mamata want the next general election at the earliest.
Top Congress sources revealed that the party, in an attempt to fortify its position, invited the BSP to join the government. The coveted railway ministry was apparently offered to Mayawati.
Although Mayawati has turned down the offer as she does not see any political gain in aligning with the Congress, a relationship which is anyway doomed to be short-lived because of Rahul Gandhi’s Uttar Pradesh agenda, the government hasn’t yet given up.
The tilt towards Mayawati came about with the realisation that Mulayam was emerging as the third front pivot and would not be interested in the survival of this government. Mayawati is willing to prop up the government for now, as she doesn’t want to face an election during the honeymoon period of the Akhilesh Yadav government, but she also does not want to be seen as a partner of the Congress.
The Congress can manage with her outside support but the desire for greater stability pushed it to upgrade the offer.
The Congress appears to have developed apprehensions on this count as both the NCP and the DMK have shown signs of considerable unease recently. While the NCP is worried about the problems in Maharashtra, the DMK has been rigid about FDI in multi-brand retail, going to the extent of promising support to any resolution in Parliament against this decision. The DMK has also refused to accept additional ministerial berths in the cabinet expansion, forcing the Prime Minister to put off the exercise.
The Congress, on the other hand, is gearing up to confront the challenges politically, too. In addition to a rally being planned in Delhi on October 28, which would be addressed by the Prime Minister as well as the Congress president, the party has launched an aggressive drive to explain the benefits of the FDI in multi-brand retail. On the same day Mamata held the anti-FDI rally in Delhi, chief minister Sheila Dikshit organised a pro-FDI rally in the capital.
At this rally, commerce minister Anand Sharma sought to buttress his argument that there was no empirical study the world over to show that FDI had destroyed small traders and reduced employment opportunities. “The people thought multinational fast-food giants like Domino’s and McDonald’s will kill Indian brands. But Indian brands have flourished here and have reached London and other countries,” he said.
Dikshit focused on the need for states to exercise their judgement. “Delhi wants FDI in retail. You can be our enemies but I request our Opposition to not be the enemies of the country, the people of this country. The Congress is the only party which has taken a tough decision like this but we know that the benefits will be immense,” she said.
The Congress has asked its state units to hold similar demonstrations all over the country.
At the party level, spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “China allowed 100 per cent FDI in retail in 1992. Between 1996 and 2001, over 6,000 hyper-markets opened but the number of local shops increased from 19 lakh to 25 lakh. The employment opportunities also multiplied. The experience in Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and many other countries is similar.”
Asked about Mamata’s attack on the Congress, the spokesperson said: “I have great regard for Mamata for the political struggle she waged in Bengal. There comes a time in the life of every political party and politician when you have to evolve from an agitator to an administrator... from a street fighter to a statesman. There are, however, personal decisions but we can expect Mamata to do some introspection.”
The presence of Sharad Yadav at Mamata’s Jantar Mantar show deepened the Congress’s suspicion about what she described as a “federal front”, though law minister Salman Khurshid spoke of the difficulties her pan-India political ambitions might face.
Many Congress leaders foresee political alignments before the next general election, though they don’t feel threatened too much by such a prospect as the BJP may not be the principal gainer of anti-incumbency in that event.