Logjam over, FDI vote in both Houses

The deadlock in Parliament over FDI in multi-brand retail ended Thursday after presiding officers of both houses agreed to allow discussions on the contentious issue under provisions that entail voting.

The government is expected to sail through the floor test in the Lok Sabha, but the scene in the Rajya Sabha is still unclear as the UPA is not in a majority there. The Samajwadi Party, which had earlier agreed to back the government in the Lok Sabha, has vowed to vote against the move in the Rajya Sabha.

Notwithstanding the tussle over voting, the opposition did not appear to be mobilising its numbers to try and defeat the government on the issue in either House.

The BJP is hit by dissensions, particularly in Karnataka. It is not certain how many MPs from the state will stick with the party leadership and how many would side with B S Yeddyurappa, who has said that he would quit the BJP and form his own outfit.

Most Gujarat MPs are busy with assembly elections in their state and it is not certain how many will make it to the capital when voting takes place.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath seemed to be aware of the roadblocks which awaited him when he had conveyed to the leaders of the opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley Wednesday that he was ready for a discussion under rule 184 - which entails voting - in the lower house.

He was reluctant to facilitate a similar exercise in the Rajya Sabha - under Rule 168 - because he was not sure of his numbers there. However, the government had to give in to the opposition demand to ensure uniformity in its position in both houses.

As soon as the Lok Sabha met Thursday morning, Speaker Meira Kumar said, "I have received 30 notices for discussion on FDI in multi-brand retail under rule 184...I have admitted the motion to allow the discussion...the date and the time will be decided later."

The discussion was then scheduled for December 4 and 5. This will be followed by a discussion under rule 168 in the Rajya Sabha. The timing will be decided later.

Kumar's announcement was preceded by a meeting of home minister and leader of the house Sushilkumar Shinde, Kamal Nath and Swaraj in her chamber. "I welcome the decision...I assure you of smooth functioning of the house," Swaraj said after the Speaker's announcement.

The Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day due to disruptions. However, Chairman Hamid Ansari announced his decision to allow a discussion under rule 168, which provides for voting. Jaitley, CPI(M) floor leader Sitaram Yechury and CPI leader D Raja had earlier pleaded with Ansari to admit a motion under this rule.

Citing the decision of the Lok Sabha speaker, they wondered how the Rajya Sabha could get "step-motherly" treatment. They pointed out that Rajya Sabha, being the council of states, had a more relevant role in the wake of the government position that the states were free to allow or bar FDI in multi-brand retail. Since the government had taken the line that the final decision will be that of the presiding officers, Ansari opted for voting.

The SP's ambivalence was in full-play as the party leader in the upper house, Ramgopal Yadav, said his party will vote against FDI in the Rajya Sabha. The SP has 21 members in the Lok Sabha and nine in the Rajya Sabha. Asked about the party's stance in the Lok Sabha, he said, "Ask our leaders in Lok Sabha," and added that there were instances of a party voting differently in the two houses.

However, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was not as categorical. "As far as FDI is concerned our party is strongly opposed to it," he said. About the stand of the party in Parliament, he said, "In politics, the future cannot be foretold...decisions are taken according to situations."

The SP ambivalence is believed to be linked to the constitution (amendment) bill, which provides for reservations for SCs and STs in promotions. The BSP wants the bill passed, as committed by the government, while the SP has decided to oppose it firmly in the Rajya Sabha.

The UPA has 265 MPs in the 545-member Lok Sabha. It crosses 300 with the support of Samajwadi Party (22) and BSP (21) although it needs only 273 for a simple majority.

However, the ruling coalition has only 94 MPs in the Rajya Sabha of 244 members. The government can get 10 nominated members along, besides three of the seven independents. It would need the help of the BSP (15) and the SP (9) to defeat the opposition.

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