On the FDI Vote in Indian Parliament

Prasenjit Bose, Ph D, is a Left activist.

Prasenjit Bose

If one adds up the number of MPs in the Loksabha belonging to political parties who have a stated position against allowing FDI in retail trade, it is certainly more than those who are in favour of the policy; actually it goes well past the Loksabha majority mark of 272. Yet, the resolution opposing FDI in retail trade received only 218 votes in favour while 253 MPs voted against it. Had the SP and BSP not walked out after registering their opposition to retail FDI, the resolution would have passed.

To argue that NDA constituents like the Akali Dal is actually in favour of FDI in retail but voted against it due to “political compulsions” does not make much sense, because the same holds for UPA constituents like the DMK or most of the Congress MPs from Kerala, who voted against the resolution out of similar “compulsions”. The number game in the Rajya Sabha was even more precariously poised, but in the end the BSP supported the government and the SP walked out ensuring the defeat of the anti-retail FDI resolution.
There is something very sinister about the stand adopted by the BSP and SP. Their argument that voting for the resolution opposing FDI in retail trade would amount to strengthening the communal forces is patently bogus. FDI in retail is a livelihood issue, where at least one-fifth of the Indian population have a direct stake, given the fact that retail trade sector is the second largest employer in India after agriculture. A large proportion of the small unorganised retailers in India also belong to the Muslim community.
Moreover, both the BSP and the SP have done business with the BJP in the past. BSP ran governments in UP with BJP support thrice in 1995, 1997 and 2002, while SP lined up with the BJP backed NDA candidate Mr. Kalam in the 2002 Presidential elections. A former BJP Chief Minister, who presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, was also an active campaigner for the SP in the 2009 Loksabha elections. Over 100 communal riots have occurred annually in Uttar Pradesh under BSP’s rule and the incidence has risen alarmingly under the SP rule in recent times. In comparison, how would have voting in favour of a resolution opposing FDI in retail in the Loksabha alongside the BJP made them culpable of aiding communalism? Is it the case that all the non-NDA parties like the Left parties, TMC, AIADMK, TDP or BJD have become communal because they have voted for the motion? It was after all not a no-confidence motion, but a resolution opposing a specific policy decision of the government of the day.
The passage of the anti-FDI in retail resolution would not have led to the collapse of the government, but would have certainly made it difficult to implement FDI in retail. One should be clear that what the SP and BSP have done is not to save a “secular” government but to facilitate the implementation of the retail FDI policy, through subterfuge. Had the resolution passed, the credit would not have necessarily gone to the BJP. If there was one irrefutable argument that came from the Congress side during the Loksabha debate, it was the brazen double standards being adopted by the BJP – they had vocally espoused the pro-FDI retail position during the NDA’s tenure and are opposing it now for the sake of it. BJP’s heart, given its overall position on economic policies, is not in opposing FDI in retail. The irony is that during NDA’s tenure, Congress as the main opposition party had also opposed FDI in retail vociferously.
Had the anti-retail FDI resolution passed, the smaller parties who have been most consistent in their opposition – particularly the Left or even the SP/BSP – could have legitimately claimed credit. Rather, what the Congress on the one hand and the SP/BSP on the other have successfully done is to facilitate the passage of a policy against popular will, by cynically playing the “communal vs secular” card on an issue which has little to do with communalism/secularism. By this warped logic, any opposition to the Congress-led government’s economic policies – or its impact in rising corruption, inflation and external vulnerability – would amount to supporting the BJP or communalism! It is such skulduggery that trivialises the secular cause and what is worse, threatens to erode the credibility of Indian democracy.