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BJP rues ‘tactical’ errors on key bill

Narendra Modi meets BJP MPs from southern India in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The government is paying for its rush to pass a slew of “reformist” bills in its first Parliament session to impress on foreign and domestic investors that Prime Minister Narendra Modi meant business.

BJP sources admit their lack of homework and “tactical errors” have helped the Congress stall the insurance bill, which looks to hike the FDI cap in insurance from 26 to 49 per cent, in a tit-for-tat strategy.

“First, we underrated the Congress’s ability to rally the Opposition, if only for the limited objective of thwarting the insurance bill,” a source said.

“Second, we depended too much on the Congress’s support, imagining that because the UPA had piloted the bill, the Congress would endorse it. We should have worked on the non-Congress parties.”

The BJP had expected Jayalalithaa, who has often tended to be soft towards the NDA, to back the bill. It was stumped when her party joined forces with the Congress in the Rajya Sabha.

“When did we ever assure the BJP of our support? We always had an issue with FDI in insurance,” claimed AIADMK member V. Maitreyan.

Another potential embarrassment the BJP had overlooked is the opposition to the bill from the RSS trade union wing, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. Its general secretary, Virjesh Upadhyay, has met ministers to convey his dissent.

“In no sector has FDI benefited anybody,” argued Upadhyay, who claimed to be “strategising” with other trade union wings to organise a strike if the Centre went ahead with the bill.

“We have to pay as much attention to FDO (foreign direct outflows). Much of the money from overseas investments has left India.”

Senior BJP sources conceded that with the US economy and job market showing signs of revival, potential and existing foreign investors would find it “more fruitful” to invest their money in America compared with India.

Baij Nath Rai, president of the Mazdoor Sangh, stressed the organisation’s autonomy when asked why it had chosen to needle the government.

“We spoke to the Sangh. But we are an autonomous organisation with a membership of two crore. We are free to make our own decisions, regardless of how it affects the BJP government,” said Rai, who lives in South 24-Parganas, Bengal.

Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government had not listed the insurance bill in the Rajya Sabha for either this week or the following one.

“Listing and withdrawing a bill is the government’s prerogative. Strategically, I am holding discussions with the other parties,” Naidu added, indicating the government had still not given up trying.

A senior BJP leader said the “last option” — although not “entirely feasible”— was to have the bill defeated in the Rajya Sabha and then put it to vote in a joint parliamentary session within six months.

For now, the government has packed the remaining six days of the session with three “labour reforms oriented” bills. It knows how much the hopes of a large number of Modi supporters are riding on the government’s ability to usher in big reforms and take snap decisions.

These are the Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2014; the Apprentices (Amendment) Bill, 2014; and the Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Amendment and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, 2005.

“These are our bills, so we shouldn’t have an issue passing them,” said Anand Sharma, Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha.

But Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress’s Lok Sabha party leader, sounded a warning on some “arbitrary provisions” in the factories bill.“Some provisions in the factories bill are arbitrary because they allow the states to make laws on women’s employment in shops and commercial establishments,” he said.

“A state can tweak the law to suit its convenience, so there won’t be any uniformity.”

Kharge said that as UPA labour minister, he had tried to do away with such provisions.