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Naveen punch hits UPA retail move

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 15: The BJD today rejected the Centre’s idea of inviting foreign direct investment in the retail sector.

Naveen Patnaik’s BJD has asked its MPs to oppose the UPA government’s bid to bring in foreign retail players into the country on favourable terms in the winter session of Parliament beginning November 22.

Sources in the BJD said that the decision was in keeping with the party’s stand of maintaining equal distance from the Congress and the BJP.

A categorical stand on the issue had become imperative as the party was facing flak for taking too long to make up its mind, which triggered speculation about a tacit understanding with the Congress.

Kandhamal MP Rudra Madhav Ray said: “Our party has made its stand clear and the same has also been reflected in the statements of BJD parliamentary party secretary Bhratuhari Mahatab. Party supremo Naveen Patnaik may make a statement before Parliament goes into session.”

Like Ray, most of the BJD MPs felt that opposing FDI in retail had become imperative to protect the interests of small-time traders. “If we don’t oppose the decision, mall culture is going to kill small operators across the country. It is all the more necessary for Odisha, a poor state, to ensure that small traders do not suffer,” said Rajya Sabha member Baishnab Parida. BJD Lok Sabha member Nityananda Pradhan echoed Parida’s lines.

The BJD has 14 Lok Sabha and seven Rajya Sabha members.

Though Odisha was one of the first states to oppose FDI in retail when the idea was first mooted and chief minister Naveen Patnaik had sought to make a common cause with like-minded leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa, he appeared to be in two minds when the UPA re-packaged the proposal giving states more freedom in the matter. Though Odisha has no city with a population of over 10 lakh, the benchmark for FDI in this sector, the UPA gave even such states the freedom of inviting foreign retailers if they so desired.

As Naveen appeared to dither with statements such as “We will examine the issue”, there was an intense speculation about the possibility of his party giving in at the last moment. But the imperatives of realpolitik appear to have forced Naveen’s hand.

The pressure mounted on him when, in the wake of BJD’s decision to abstain from voting in the vice-presidential elections a few months ago, some Congress leaders suggested that the party could be expected to bail out the UPA government in Parliament following the withdrawal of support by Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress. This implied that Congress could settle some scores with BJD’s help when ticklish issues such as FDI in retail came up for discussion.

Even though Union chemical and fertilisers minister Srikant Jena stated at that time that the UPA could survive without the BJD, whose support had never been sought, the cloud of suspicion hung over the regional party led by Naveen.

Thus, rejecting the UPA’s FDI proposal seems to have become a political compulsion for the BJD if it had to ensure the credibility of its policy of equidistance from the Congress and the BJP.

Ironically, however, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India reckoned that with over 27 per cent share in the total FDI proposed in 2011-12, Odisha was the most favourite investment destination for the overseas investors.