SP, BSP mellow stand, BJP sticks to voting rule
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While the Samajwadi Party, the other key player, held back its support, it may abstain in case of a discussion under Rule 184, which entails voting. Sources said they have been given a tacit assurance that mere listing of the SC/ST Bill in the Upper House did not amount to actually holding a discussion on it.
Its hands strengthened, the government worked towards isolating the BJP at the all-party meeting on Monday as the only party holding up Parliament for a Rule 184 discussion on FDI in retail. Its strategy continues to be centred on allowing a discussion under Rule 193, which does not entail voting.
Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, however, said there would not be any compromise on the BJP stand on discussion under Rule 184. She said NDA constituents and the TDP, BJD and AIADMK, along with the Left parties, had pressed at the all-party meeting for a discussion under rules that entail voting.
A division was seen in the Opposition camp on Monday with the Trinamool Congress breaking ranks and stating at the meeting that the decision should be left to the Speaker's discretion. Explaining the party stand, TMC leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said: "The best was to have voting on the no-confidence motion (moved by the party). This would have obviated the need to go with a begging bowl seeking support for discussions under 184. It should be left to the Speaker to decide under what rule it takes place."
Taking an independent line, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has already given a notice for a discussion under both Rules 184 and 193. BJD MP B Mahtab told The Indian Express, "We have given notice under both 184 and 193, but I don't see why the government should not agree to a discussion under 184. We are against FDI in multi-brand retail."
What was reassuring for the government was that the SP and BSP both were on the same page at Monday's meeting. The Bill providing for SC/ST reservation in promotions in government jobs — which the BSP backs and SP opposes — was incidentally listed in the Rajya Sabha only hours before the meeting.
The SP had vociferously opposed allowing FDI in multi-brand retail and therefore, the government was sceptical about its stand. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier in the day. Emerging from the all-party meeting, where he said the Bill was against the interest of 82 per cent of the people, SP leader Reoti Raman Singh said: "We want a debate on FDI, but the Speaker should decide the rules under which it should be held." The SP has reportedly conveyed that it would prefer discussions without voting.
BSP supremo Mayawati spoke on similar lines: "We want the House to run. We want a debate on FDI but leave it to the presiding officer on what rule it should be debated under."
Given the SP's reservations, the UPA allies' meeting on Tuesday could be crucial as the government seeks to keep its flock together in the Lok Sabha and especially the Rajya Sabha.
The DMK has conveyed to the government that they would prefer discussions without voting. "We have conveyed the concerns of the trading community and the farmers. We will take a decision (on voting) after the government firms up its course of actions," said TR Baalu.
"A majority of parties want discussions under Rule 193. When it comes to a larger discussion on the FDI in retail sector, we are ready for it. But why (should one) show deep dissension in polity when there is a mounting trade account deficit and the economic situation is what it is?" Commerce & Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters after the meeting.
According to sources, with a majority of the parties now taking the government's line on the modalities of discussion, the UPA is confident about its numbers in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha but doesn't want voting on an executive decision as it would set a "bad precedent".
Congress spokesperson and MP Sandeep Dikshit said at a press briefing that "300 to 325 MPs" belonging to different parties are in favour of leaving it to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha to decide under what rules discussions should be held. "We will do whatever the Speaker decides," he said.
As for the Opposition's stand for a debate in Parliament on an executive decision, Dikshit said, "In 2002, we had also wanted a debate under Rule 184 on what happened in Gujarat, but the NDA did not agree to it arguing that it was beyond the legislative competence of Parliament."
At the all-party meeting, the government sought to impress upon all parties that dissension in the polity over FDI in retail will send a wrong message to the international community, said sources. Besides, extensive consultations had been held with all the states before coming to the decision, it said, with only seven of the 21 consulted replying.
"When the government said it would send a wrong message, I said that you sought a trust vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal but it did not send any wrong message. Bring FDI in rail, road, etc. but not in retail sector," said JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav.