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Centre sure of DMK support

On board the Prime Minister’s aircraft, Nov. 20: The Centre today claimed it was “confident” of bringing key UPA ally, the DMK, on board on the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail before Parliament sits for its winter session from November 22.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or a senior cabinet colleague will speak to DMK president M. Karunanidhi in the next couple of days to address his and his party colleagues’ “concerns and reservations” on the matter.

“The DMK is a valuable ally. We are sure the senior Congress leadership, including the PM, will speak to him. We will convince him that the decision is India-specific and that the interests of the farmers and small traders are fully protected...” commerce minister Anand Sharma told journalists travelling with Singh on his return from Cambodia after a three-day Asean meet and the East Asia summit at Phnom Penh.

“The economies of scale will ensure that foreign and domestic players have a level-playing field. Organised and unorganised retail will ensure from now on, you will have rupees, dollars and euros invested in the trade. Is the colour of the money going to affect the stakeholders?”

Over the past week, Karunanidhi has twice stressed the DMK is against retail FDI. It is learnt that DMK leaders urged the Centre to avoid a vote on the subject in Parliament.

“This will force us to take sides and perhaps play our hand openly. That might cause problems for the government,” a DMK source had earlier said.

Sharma rejected the suggestion that the winter session might spawn instability and political realignments.

“We remain confident that the UPA will hold strong. There could be perceptions on different approaches to a particular matter. But there is no doubt that all our allies are clear that they should not be misconstrued as creating a situation the Opposition thinks is pregnant with instability. The Opposition's job is to oppose,” the minister emphasised.

Sharma maintained that the DMK, which supported both the UPA regimes, would continue doing it for two reasons: retail FDI was “an issue of national interest” and it was bound to “keep at bay parties pursuing a partisan agenda”.

Sharma — who has virtually built up and packaged retail FDI as UPA II’s version of the Indo-US nuclear deal —maintained he was unfazed by the Opposition demand that the amendments related to retail FDI in the FEMA Act be voted upon.

With the foreign investment promotion board green-flagging the entry of Scandinavian furniture retail major, Ikea, Sharma said it “bode well for FDI in general in India”.

He clarified that the changes envisaged for the FEMA Act were “notifications for guidelines” and were, therefore, not required to be voted upon.

The Prime Minister did not address a single customary news conference on the flight from Delhi to Phnom Penh or back. Sources cited “illness”, arising from a “throat infection” as the reason.

Singh, however, finally managed a “pull-aside” 10 minutes over coffee with President Barack Obama this morning at the Retreat.

Sources said as soon as Singh was done with congratulating Obama, the US President told him that India was a “big part” of America’s plans.

Obama arrived in the Cambodian capital last night, the first sitting US President to have visited the country that still lies painfully on the cusp of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy.