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Govt wins FDI round one, readies for next

- Trinamul among flexible parties

New Delhi, Nov. 26: Parties controlling over 325 MPs today refrained from making voting an inflexible condition for debating foreign direct investment in retail, gifting the UPA a booster shot and wiggle room ahead of the final decision.

Among those who left it to the Speaker’s decision and indirectly helped the government was a standout: the Trinamul Congress which appeared to be responding to multiple compulsions.

The immediate outcome of the all-party meeting called to break the winter session logjam was that the NDA and the Left, which are still insisting on Rule 184 that entails voting, found themselves in a minority.

The UPA found a breather from several fronts. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the two outside supporters who are opposed to the FDI decision, unambiguously said the purpose was to have a full-fledged debate, followed by voting or not. Ally DMK, too, adopted this line.

The government has been saying that a policy decision by the executive should not be put to vote in the House.

Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said: “If most parties have not insisted on Rule 184 and have left it to the Speaker’s decision, the democratic principle of majority should be respected by all. The purpose should not be to score political points but to respect rules and have a debate.”

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, too, said after the meeting: “We appeal to the parties demanding a debate under Rule 184 to reconsider their stand as the majority is in favour of leaving the decision to the Speaker. We have heard all the parties and now we will take a decision in consultation with the presiding officers.”

Although Kamal Nath said accepting the Rule 184 demand would set a bad precedent, he did not rule out the possibility of voting on FDI.

Sources said the government would first push for a debate under Rule 193, which is not followed by voting. If such a step does not help resume normal business in Parliament and the Opposition continues to insist on a voting provision, the government may, as a last resort, consider accepting an adjournment motion on FDI that was moved by Samajwadi members on the first day of the session.

A debate on an adjournment motion is followed by voting. An adjournment motion also has a censure provision and a defeat is possible in voting as all the parties that collectively account for 325 MPs (the majority mark is 273) have not committed to vote for the government on FDI. They have only agreed not to insist on a debate that entails voting.

But an adjournment motion will give the government some space for manoeuvre.

Since the Samajwadi Party is piloting it, the government may try to persuade the outside ally to word the motion carefully without explicitly calling for a reversal of the FDI policy. A debate under Rule 184 on a motion scripted by the BJP is bound to be harsher.

The sources said the Samajwadis, BSP and the DMK might walk out, dissatisfied with the government’s response, instead of participating in voting. Such a scenario will enable the remaining UPA allies to defeat the motion.

Once the issue is debated under an adjournment motion, the BJP cannot press for another debate on the same issue under a different rule.

The Speaker had not rejected the adjournment motions on FDI moved by Samajwadi members Shailendra Kumar and Rewati Raman Singh even though she dismissed one by the BSP’s Dara Singh Chauhan on law and order in Uttar Pradesh. On the Samajwadi motions, Meira Kumar had said: “I have called for facts. The matter is under my consideration.”

This has kept open an escape hatch for the government while battling it out with the BJP on the use of Rule 184.

The government is still fighting its case against the BJP demand, with three senior ministers — P. Chidambaram, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma — saying that discussing the FDI decision with a voting provision would send out a “wrong message”.

They contended that investors and industry would presume that all executive decisions would have to pass the parliamentary test.

This argument was confronted by Janata Dal (United)’s Sharad Yadav who wondered why the government did not worry about the “wrong message” when it moved a confidence motion against the backdrop of the nuclear deal stand-off.

The efficacy of the Congress’s management was evident at today’s meeting when BSP leader Mayawati sang the government’s tune, saying that holding up bills and governance processes over one issue, FDI, was not good for the country.

Although she made the statement in the context of the pending bill for promotion of Dalit and Scheduled Tribe government employees, the overriding message was a blunt disapproval of the NDA’s tactic of paralysing Parliament.


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