Column : FDI as a tool of social liberation

FDI in multi-brand retail could improve the lot of the small shopkeeper at the bottom of the social ladder

The BJP was taken completely by surprise when the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) chose to vote in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail in the Rajya Sabha within 24 hours of having abstained from voting in the Lok Sabha on the same issue. Assuming Mayawati would abstain from voting in the Rajya Sabha, BJP leader Arun Jaitley had declared UPA to be on very shaky ground on the eve of voting. But the BSP leader chose to pull the rug from under the main opposition's feet. The BJP cried foul saying Mayawati had been coerced into voting in favour of the UPA because of some pending CBI cases against her. Indeed, that would be a very naÔve reading of the BSP's motivations. A more nuanced analysis of BSP' actions suggests that it abstained from voting in the Lok Sabha after speaking against FDI in retail because it wanted to generally cash in on the prevailing fears and apprehensions among small businesses over the impact of foreign investment in this critical sector. Mayawati had earlier made a statement that she would consider endorsing FDI in multi-brand retail after seeing what impact it has on farmers.

Her vote in favour of the policy measure in the Rajya Sabha possibly represents what some prominent Dalit intellectuals have described as the "socially liberating potential of FDI in retail". Some years ago, BSP member of Parliament Arif Mohammed Khan had told me that the BSP historically regarded the global multinational business culture as an antidote to the local caste system because global capital only valued economic surplus and had no social hegemonic agenda.

Another well known Dalit writer and intellectual, Chandrabhan Prasad, has argued that FDI in retail has tremendous socially-liberating potential. He said that while Mayawati's stand is political, there is clearly a bigger and more significant social dimension to it from the Dalit perspective. Further, Chandrabhan Prasad welcomes the new culture spawned by economic globalisation because "unless culture breaks, caste cannot break". Another prominent Dalit political thinker, professor Kancha Ilaiah, believes FDI is generally good for the economy as it will break the bania community's hold over money circulation.

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