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Good H in Calcutta, bad H in Delhi

- Trinamul sees clinton hand in fdi decision

New Delhi, Dec. 4: Hillary Clinton, busy fighting the Syrian flames from Prague today, found herself “teleported” to the Indian Parliament, thanks to the Trinamul Congress she thought she had won over in Calcutta this May.

Trinamul MP Saugata Roy launched a vitriolic attack on the government in the Lok Sabha during the debate on FDI in multi-brand retail, bringing in two American fixtures that his party had once feted.

He suggested the triggers for the FDI decision had come under pressure from Clinton, the US secretary of state, and a Time magazine report that termed the Prime Minister as “underachiever”.

“The government backed off originally to keep coalition members happy. It ultimately acted according to the prescription given by the Time magazine…. The story rattled the Prime Minister,” Roy said amid thumping of desks by BJP as well as Left members.

Trinamul is no stranger to being transfixed by what Time says, especially about its leader Mamata Banerjee. Even today, Bengal transport minister Madan Mitra said in Calcutta that “according to Time magazine, she is in 100” (most influential persons in the world).

In the House, Roy asked: “I seek to ask the Prime Minister — why are we selling our heads for a few pieces of silver? Who is the Prime Minister trying to help, the US or China? All goods will come from China and money will go to US.”

Roy, who began his speech by congratulating Sushma Swaraj for her “beautiful speech in flowery and flowing Hindi”, said: “She (Clinton) was a director on the board of Wal-Mart for a long time and when she was trying to become the American President in 2007-08, Wal-Mart executives and lobbies paid for her. She (Clinton) was obviously interested in Wal-Mart getting into India. But why does the Government of India have to respond to American urgings?”

A quibble over the matter had clouded an otherwise picture-perfect visit of Clinton to Calcutta in May when Mamata had switched on a charm offensive on the guest.

After the talks with Clinton, Mamata had insisted that retail was never mentioned (“kono kotha hoyni”). But a subsequent statement from the US consulate said Clinton touched on retail, prompting finance minister Amit Mitra to urge the American consulate-general “unequivocally and strongly that the mention of investment in retail sector be avoided in your press statement”. Till now, the consulate has not withdrawn the statement publicly.

Roy’s references to Clinton invited a protest from external affairs minister Salman Khurshid who pointed out that allegations against a foreign constitutional authority were not proper.

“If I take the name of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, it would not be out of order. We have shown her the respect that she deserves,” Roy replied, adding that the rules do not bar a member from referring to foreign dignitaries.

Roy later mentioned Clinton again and Khurshid renewed his objection, prompting CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta to back the Trinamul MP. Dasgupta said: “Don’t take the name of Ms Clinton. Mr Khurshid is very much sensitive to that name.”

Roy added: “Mr Khurshid is sensitive to two persons. Positively to Ms Clinton and negatively towards Mr Kejriwal.”

More protests followed and Speaker Meira Kumar said all objectionable comments would be removed from the records.

When Speaker said discriminatory allegations cannot be levelled without a proper notice, Roy asked: “How do I give a notice to Ms Clinton?” The Speaker told him that he should give the notice to the Chair.

Sushma, who initiated the debate, predicted doom for India’s retail sector as the entry of global giants would create monopoly and wipe out competition.

She wondered if Wal-Mart had bribed some people in India and “whether this decision too was born out of corruption”.

Addressing the Prime Minister, she said: “Fight for the poor, not rich. Fight for your own people, not outsiders. I am ready to visit foreign countries with you to assure the investors that we are not against FDI but not in retail. This will be unique experiment that the Indian government and the Opposition will go together to assure investors.”

However, Kapil Sibal, the main speaker from the government’s side, pointed out how the BJP opposed all reform measures and legislation that it planned to bring during its regime.

Sibal cited the positive Bengal experience on potato with the PepsiCo deal. He also pointed out that the governments of Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were trying to attract foreign investments to help their farmers. “They are doing in their states exactly what they are opposing here,” Sibal said.

Vote today

The Samajwadi Party and the BSP, too, opposed the policy, indicating that abstention from voting could be their only option if they still wished to help the government.

Voting on the motion under rule 184 in the Lok Sabha will take place tomorrow after commerce minister Anand Sharma’s reply.

The BSP opposed the policy but contended that the party would have to consider if strengthening the communal forces was a wise step.

The government appeared to be confident that both parties would walk out during voting.