BJP admits under PM Vajpayee it promised FDI in retail

Much to its embarrassment, the BJP, which is vehemently opposing FDI in retail, today admitted that the 2004 election manifesto of NDA had promised to allow 26 per cent FDI in the sector, and tried to explain away the volte-face on the issue.

"It is a reality. We have not denied it. But in 2009 we had changed it. In 2004, the NDA may have seen some merit. We are not against the concept of FDI but not in retail. There may have been some rationale for it in 2004," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said in reply to a question.

Defending the change in stand by the BJP, which has firmly maintained that its position on the FDI issue was "non- negotiable", party leader Sushma Swaraj said that one could always revise one's opinion with time.

"There is no bar against wisdom...," she said.

Jaitley said, "In the 2004 elections there was no BJP manifesto but a vision document. In that also the BJP promised FDI in structured retail with a caveat that there will be no FDI in retail. However, the NDA manifesto (of 2004) promised FDI in retail."

This position was abandoned in 2009 elections when the BJP manifesto, authored by Murli Manohar Joshi, categorically said no FDI in retail would be allowed, ostensibly as the party was aggressively wooing small and medium traders. NDA did not come out with a separate manifesto in these polls, Jaitley said.

However, BJP stressed that it had never made the offer of allowing FDI in retail in any of its manifestos.

"From 1980 (when the BJP was formed) till today none of our manifestos have ever supported FDI in retail. When we were in power (1998-2004) there was international pressure to allow it and some committees were formed to look into it but it was never implemented," Jaitley said.

Meanwhile, BJP remained firm in its resolve on the FDI issue even after the all-party meeting called by the government this morning to end the deadlock.

"We gave two suggestions to the government during the meeting. You either rollback the decision on FDI in retail and have a discussion on price rise today and black money tomorrow or accept our adjournment motion and have a debate and voting today itself on FDI in retail," Swaraj said.

The opposition also insisted that it would not step down from its position on the issue of FDI.

"Our adjournment motion on the FDI issue is non-negotiable. We are not on the negotiating table. The terms are not negotiable," Swaraj said while Jaitley maintained that BJP view on the issue was "firm and clear".

She also hit out at the government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, alleging that while the opposition wanted the deadlock to end and Parliament to function, the UPA dispensation does not appear to be concerned.

"Pranab Mukherjee heard our views and then said he will talk to the Prime Minister. The issue also arises here that when Mukherjee had to talk to the Prime Minister, the latter could have directly heard us and taken a decision," she said.

"Propriety demands that Prime Minister should have himself taken this meeting," Swaraj said.

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