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Heading For A Showdown
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Taking a tough stand, the government hit out out at "obstructionist" opposition and ruled out roll-back of its decision. The Industry Ministry, however, admitted that states were not formally consulted. With coalition partners DMK and Trinamool Congress opposing FDI in retail, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to the two UPA partners but gave no assurance of a rollback of the controversial decision that has led to logjam in Parliament.
During the meeting with leaders of the DMK and Trinamool Congress, Singh made it clear that the government was determined to go ahead with the decision taken last week to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail and 100 per cent FDI in single-brand retail despite the widespread uproar, sources said.
Political differences should not be allowed to come in the way of India's progress, twitted Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata while other corporate leaders, including Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, UB Group Chairman Vijay Mallya and Mahindra Group Vice-Chairman Anand Mahindra, expressed concerns over the current state of economy in the country. Only yesterday, the government data on economic growth showed that India's economic engine has slowed to 2-year low. On Thursday, export figures were released showing that from a peak of 82 per cent in July, export growth has slipped to 44.25 per cent in August, 36.36 per cent in September and 10.8 per cent in October.
Biocon India Chairperson and Managing Director Kiran Mazumdar Shaw tweeted: "Partisan politics is deterring development in our country unfortunately. Its disagreement for the sake of it and not rationale". UB Group chief Vijay Mallya highlighted how political compulsions are affecting decision making.
Govt Sticks To Gun
In face of vociferous political protest, the government was adamant that there was no question of policy reversal. The Bharatiya Janata Party and government coalition allies Trinamool Congress and DMK have stalled parliament this week to protest at what they say will be widespread job losses among millions of small traders.
One BJP politician last week threatened to burn down any store Walmart opens in Lucknow.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, the protests were patchy. In some BJP strongholds most small business were closed, while in ruling Congress party-dominated cities such as New Delhi the strike was partial.
Demonstrating traders in Delhi chanted "Rollback the FDI" and held placards reading "If you can't provide us with jobs, don't take away our current ones!"
The controversy has become a lightning rod for the opposition ahead of state elections next year that will pave the way for a general election in 2014.
Uproar from lawmakers over the retail move led to both houses being suspended on Thursday -- as they have been every day since the winter parliamentary session opened on November 22.
"This is obstructionist opportunist opposition and what can you expect?...They cannot dictate government on the executive policy decision...Roll back? Who are you?," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma asked apparently attacking the BJP.
Briefing reporters, Secretary in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) P K Chaudhery also stated clearly there was no question of the policy reversal.
Asked if government will seek comments before formulating the rules on the policy, he said there was no such move.
"Guidelines on FDI in multi-brand retail are not to be put on hold. It is work in progress," Chaudhery said without indicating any timeline.
The DIPP Secretary agreed that no formal communication was sent to the states while the department was in the process of formulating the policy.
Disconnect Between Cong & Govt: BJP
BJP has charged that there were differences between Congress party and the government on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail and dared UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and other senior party leaders to make their views public on the matter.
"Congress has not made its views clear on FDI in retail issue. That means there is a rift in Congress and between the ruling coalition and the government on the issue. Congress President Sonia Gandhi should make her views public on this issue," Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj told reporters.
She pointed out that at a recent Youth Congress function, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had defended the government's decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail but Sonia Gandhi and Rahul did not air their views on the issue.
"No senior leader of Congress- its party President or any of the General Secretaries- has defended the FDI decision," Swaraj said.
When informed that Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari had stated at a press conference that the party was fully with the government, Swaraj maintained he was a "light-weight" and since this was a burning issue a senior leader of the ruling party should clarify their stand.