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WALKMART
- On feet after M & M stroll, govt looks for RS leg-up

New Delhi, Dec. 5: The UPA today passed the FDI test in the Lok Sabha on the back of walkouts by the Samajwadi Party as well as the BSP and road-tested its ability to muster a majority in the event of a no-confidence motion.

By late tonight, celebrations had given way to hard-nosed calculations on how to tackle the tougher test in the Rajya Sabha, where a debate is expected tomorrow and a vote on Friday.

Top sources disclosed tonight that Congress managers were working on Mayawati to vote for the government in the Rajya Sabha as Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared reluctant to go that far. Besides, his strength in the Upper House is only nine, not enough to change the numbers game.

If Mulayam’s party abstains in the Rajya Sabha, as it did in the Lok Sabha today, and the BSP’s 15 members vote against the Opposition’s motion, the government can expect to come out unscathed.

A senior minister said this evening after winning the vote in the Lok Sabha: “We are not as comfortable in the Rajya Sabha but things are being sorted out. We have no apprehensions of a defeat. We will win comprehensively.”

Congress leaders, too, sounded confident. Sonia Gandhi stuck her neck out to say she was not worried about the Rajya Sabha.

The UPA, which has 90 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, enjoys the support of the RJD’s two and 10 nominated members. This means the UPA tally of 102 is 21 short of the majority mark of 123. But if the BSP’s 15 vote in favour of the government, the tally jumps to 117 whereas the committed vote against FDI is 109.

Of the seven Independents, some are said to be in touch with the government. Sources said the government might ward off defeat even if the BSP abstained along with the Samajwadi Party.

The motion seeking the immediate withdrawal of FDI in multi-brand retail was defeated with 253 MPs supporting the government and 218 opposing it.

Some UPA members were absent but the government demonstrated that it could muster the required 273 MPs with the help of the BSP’s 21 in case a no-confidence motion is moved in the near future.

If Mayawati votes for the government, even a change of heart by Mulayam will not enable the BJP or Trinamul Congress to pull down the government in the absence of a break-up in the UPA.

But it has not been easy for the government as leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj emphatically highlighted that the majority opinion in the Lok Sabha was against the FDI decision.

However, government sources pointed out that an executive policy decision should never have been debated in the House and the BJP should ponder why decisive parties like the Samajwadi and the BSP still consider the principal Opposition too risky to touch.

The factor appeared to be grating on the nerves of the BJP, too. Sushma told the Lok Sabha, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were present: “They (the Samajwadi and the BSP) parroted the oft-repeated line of not standing with the BJP but this was not a secular-communal debate. The reason for their walkout was FDI versus CBI. They didn’t oppose FDI for the fear of CBI. Had Mulayam voted against the government today, FDI would not have been a reality.”

She added that had the views of those who spoke been reflected in the vote, the number in favour of FDI would have been only 224 against the 282 who opposed.

Another person who cried “CBI has won” when the two motions (one was an amendment to Fema governing FDI rules) were defeated was Trinamul’s Saugata Roy, whose party and the Left voted with the BJP.

Mamata Banerjee termed the outcome a “shame”.


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