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An End To FDI Logjam?

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With the government failing to convince the Opposition to agree to a debate instead of voting on retail FDI and at the same time managing to garner enough support to sail through a voteout, an end to the logjam in Parliament appears likely on 29 November.  The government has been giving enough hints that it has no problem over a vote on the issue, should the Lok Sabha speaker decide so.

In an effort to break the impasse, UPA troubleshooter, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, along with his deputy Rajiv Shukla, met with leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley on 28 November but failed to convince them to agree to a debate on the FDI retail issue, worsening a standoff that has paralysed parliament and jeopardised economic reforms..

Insisting that numbers were "not a worry" for the government, Nath said that the MPs are responsible enough to decide (in favour of the issue). Asked if the government was ready for voting on FDI as the opposition is firm on its stand, Nath said, "We are not averse to it."

Replying to questions, he dismissed suggestions that the government has wasted four days of the Winter session to decide on the issue as it did not have the numbers. "From day one I have said we have the numbers," he said to a question that the government was ready for a vote only after key ally DMK came on board.
 
 
Earlier, he also met the Lok Sabha Speaker and last evening the Rajya Sabha Chairperson.

 
The BJP and left-wing parties have been demanding a vote on the measure, passed by executive order in September, to allow 51 per cent foreign investment in domestic multi-brand retailers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh=led UPA has been strongly resisting such a move and has called for a debate.
 
If the government lost the vote it would be an embarrassing setback on a policy on which it has staked so much political capital. It would also raise questions about the possibility of further economic reforms to boost sluggish growth.
 
BJP's logic on insisting on a discussion under a rule that entails voting has been the allegation that the government had committed gross neglect of Parliament by not adhering to its commitment of consulting all stakeholders before taking a decision on FDI in multi-brand retail.
 
 
 
In such a situation, the only way the sense of the House could be gauged was through voting, Swaraj told reporters after the hour-long meeting.
 
 
 
Her contention was that even if such vote went against, it would not lead to the fall of the government but would only show the view of Parliament on the FDI issue. "The government will not fall. Only FDI (decision) will have to go. If majority of members are against the decision then the government should abide by it," Swaraj said.
 
 
 
As against this, Nath argued that the all-party meeting held on 26 November showed that larger numbers favoured a discussion without voting. The meeting also saw most of the parties wanting Parliament to run and "we want Parliament to run".
 
 
 
Nath said the government "cannot accept (discussion under Rule) 184. We have left it to the presiding officers to decide. Let them take any decision they want in the interest of running the House".
 
 
 
To a query whether the government was setting a bad precedent by having a voting on an executive decision, the minister said, "There are many precedents. A House behaving like this was also not there. Rules are very clear. We are not worried. Government is confident of the steps... of our policies."
 
 
 
Besides BJP, the Left parties, BJD, AIADMK, TDP have been demanding that the discussion on FDI should be followed by voting.
 
 
 
While in Lok Sabha, the government appears to be comfortably placed in the numbers game with promise of support from SP and BSP and DMK's open backing. Trinamool Congress with 19 MPs has also been cold towards Opposition demands for a vote on the issue.
 
 
 
In the Lower House, at present the UPA enjoys the support of about 265 MPs in Lok Sabha of 545. With the support of Samajwadi Party (22) and BSP (21), the backing for the ruling coalition goes a little over 300, which is comfortable over the required 273.
 
 
 
However in Rajya Sabha, where the UPA coalition does not have the numbers on its own, it may have problems in case of a vote.
 
 
 
In a House with an effective strength of 244, the UPA and its allies have a strength of about 94 members. There are ten nominated members who may vote with the government. Among the seven Independents, three or four may go with the government.
 
 
 
Still the ruling coalition may have to persuade outside supporters BSP (15) and SP (9) to positively vote with the government to avoid any last-minutes hitches.
 
The government's decision to allow foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart into India was seen by economists and business leaders as a long overdue step forward in liberalising the economy. But critics say it will destroy millions of jobs and jeopardises the livelihoods of mom-and-pop store owners.
 
With a slew of state elections due over the next year and national elections scheduled for 2014, opposition parties have launched a concerted attack on the government's flagship reform, seeking to highlight the fact that even Singh's allies, fearing a voter backlash, are not fully on board with it.
 
For the government to win the vote it would need the help of two major regional parties, which are not part of the coalition but often vote with it in parliament. However, that is problematic for two reasons -- both parties oppose the reform and neither have always been reliable partners.
 
Financial markets are already concerned about the fate of insurance, pension and banking bills that were due to be voted on during the month-long winter session.
 
(With input from PTI and Reuters)