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BJP hints at terms for FDI support
Party wants lower cap, assured returns

New Delhi, Oct. 4: The BJP is officially waiting for “the fine print” but party sources said in private that it could support the insurance and pension fund bills if the government agreed to certain conditions.

Among the caveats suggested is a proposal to work in a clause that foreign investment in pension funds would not cross 26 per cent — far lower than the 49 per cent flagged by the government today.

BJP sources said if the Centre took their concerns on board and engaged them “comprehensively instead of treating us simply like adversaries”, the principal Opposition party could reciprocate by facilitating the passage of the bills.

But key UPA ally Samajwadi Party reacted with a blanket “no”, though party leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is expected to come up with an official response tomorrow.

There was no word from the other heartland party, the BSP, which, like the Samajwadi Party, supports the Manmohan Singh government from outside and is equally critical for its survival on the floor of the House.

The BJP suggested that it would have to examine the details. “The fine print has not been seen yet,” Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley said.

Spokesperson Prakash Javadekar reminded the Centre of former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s assurance that the BJP’s viewpoints would be taken into account when the bills were crafted.

On insurance, the BJP appeared willing to look into the pros and cons of 49 per cent foreign investment, although the party and a parliamentary standing committee had recommended a 26 per cent cap.

Some BJP leaders initially thought that the pension cap was not fixed at 49 per cent, saying they found P. Chidambaram’s statement a bit “iffy”.

The finance minister did use an “if” but the meaning was clear. “The FDI limit in pension will follow the FDI limit in insurance. If the insurance bill passes with 49 per cent, pension will also be 49 per cent,” Chidambaram had said in the evening.

On pension, Javadekar said the BJP’s main concern was that such funds represented the “hard-earned life-time savings of the aam aadmi and so the Centre should give a sovereign guarantee about their security along with assured annual returns of at least 8.5 per cent.

He also wanted the 26 per cent FDI cap incorporated in the proposed law so successive governments aren’t at liberty to enhance the ceiling at their “own free will” through an executive order.

In the past, the BJP had hinted that it wasn’t averse to greater FDI in insurance and pension. It had even asked why the Manmohan government was “unwilling” to bite the bullet and clear the moves.

BJP sources pointed out that unlike FDI in multi-brand retail — which “impinged directly on the rights and interests of the indigenous traders” — the increased caps in pension and insurance would not “negatively” impact investors, if the party-suggested riders are included.

Earlier in the day, however, government sources had expressed fears that with the political battlelines hardening in the prelude to the Gujarat and Himachal elections, the BJP may be “disinclined” to endorse key bills.

BJP sources said they were inclined to take a “long-term and bipartisan” perspective. Government sources said if they got a “friendly” signal, the senior ministers would begin engaging with BJP leaders right away.