Facts and spectres

Government won the vote on FDI in retail. But what was the opposition opposing anyway?

Shorn of the diverting drama, the two-day parliamentary debate and vote on FDI in retail was a clash of two perspectives. Those for the move primarily the UPA needed to explain how the injection of global money and innovation in retail would help the economy, bring efficiency and consolidation, benefit consumers and farmers. The parties against FDI in retail had the rhetorical advantage, or so they thought. While there may arguably be legitimate concerns about its potential impact on employment, farmers' bargaining power and the viability of small business, for the most part, these parties sketched apocalyptic scenarios of bloodsucking corporations bearing down on farmers, of plucky businesses closing down while the government ushers global fat cats down India Gate. Several speakers warned that this could be the "East India Company" all over again all the old fearful slogans were dusted off to present a picture of global forces overwhelming Indian enterprise. In a young, increasingly confident and hopeful India, ghosts like these have mercifully been laid to rest. In the process, the anti-FDI voices not only lost the vote, they also lost the argument.

Having said that, however, it was not a neat division between the politics of progress and the politics of obstruction. You could be forgiven for experiencing some cognitive dissonance at the end of the debate. Over the last decade, the BJP and the Congress have swapped roles, and during the debate, both quoted each other's previously stated opinions with glee. Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke of swadeshi and the dangers of foreign retailers and entreated the UPA not to take this step, but he walked out to oblige the government, as did Mayawati, who had made cryptic remarks about FDI and refused to divulge her final stand until the last. Apart from parties like the Left, whose views are rote and predictable, nearly all the others appeared shifty and opportunistic, their hotly expressed opinions not entirely in good faith. What's more, the BJP and others opposed to the move failed to convey exactly what they opposed organised business or global money? Or just the way the decision was taken and the lack of consultation?

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