UPA govt wins retail FDI vote in Rajya Sabha as SP walks out

Government today won the approval of Parliament to its controversial decision of allowing FDI in multi-brand retail with a motion against it being defeated convincingly in Rajya Sabha, as BSP voted in favour of UPA.

123 members voted against the motion while 109 voted in favour after a two-day animated debate during which the Opposition attacked the proposal to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, while the government strongly justified it saying it was in the best interest of the country.

Samajwadi Party, which has nine members in the House, staged a walkout expressing dissatisfaction over Commerce Minister Anand Sharma's reply.

The defeat of the motion moved by AIADMK member V Maitreyan in the Rajya Sabha came two days after the Lok Sabha voted out a similar motion, paving the way for entry of global supermarkets like Walmart into the country.

The government's victory in Rajya Sabha, where UPA lacks a majority of its own, came with the help of 15-member BSP, which had walked out of the Lok Sabha during voting on the issue. UPA has 94 members in the Upper House which has an effective strength of 244.

Sachin Tendulkar, nominated member who is playing test match in Kolkata, Murli Deora (Cong), who is unwell, and rebel BJD leader Pyari Mohan Mahapatra were absent.

Replying to the debate, Maitreyan insisted that majority of the House was not in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail.

He said voting did not take place on "merits of the issue, but other considerations...It is a victory of the minority."

Earlier, Sharma maintained that the move was essential for the country's growth and rejected the opposition contention that it would hurt the small retailers and farmers and harm the manufacturing sector.

The division of votes was marred by some technical glitches because of which the exercise had to be done again. The animated debate saw clashes between government and the opposition as the sides put forth their arguments and counter arguments.

Sharma questioned BJP's opposition to FDI in retail saying that when the party was in power, it had plans to allow FDI in retail up to the extent of 100 percent, which was countered vociferously by members from the BJP including Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley.

To justify his arguments, Sharma cited a report of a Committee of Planning Commission in 2002 headed by N K Singh, now a JD-U member of Rajya Sabha.

Sharma said the report had favoured up to 100 per cent FDI in retail be brought in as it will benefit both consumers and farmers.

Singh wanted to respond to it but the minister refused to yield leading to pandemonium with Trinamool Congress and Left showing solidarity with Singh and slamming the minister.

An angry Opposition accused Sharma of misleading the House and demanded an apology from the government as Singh said that the report had concluded that FDI in multi-brand retail was not in interest of the nation at this time.

The uproar led to abrupt adjournment of the House for over an hour.

Targetting Sharma, Jaitley said, "The Minister has said that N K Singh in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee has supported FDI in multi-brand retail. He cannot play up one paragraph. You are reading the preamble and not the conclusion...please allow him (Singh) to speak."

When the House re-assembled, the minister said his contention was misunderstood but he wanted to ask why the proposal was not taken forward.

Responding to the Opposition's criticism of FDI, Sharma accused Opposition of creating a scare over the issue and rejected Jaitley's contention that THE measure will lead to India becoming a nation of sales boys and sales girls.

"You have scared foreign investors, who want to visit India," he said.

Sharma also took strong objection to Jaitley's remarks yesterday challenging Union Minister Kapil Sibal to get such a super store in his Parliamentary seat Chandni Chowk and see the result in next Lok Sabha election and asked Jaitley to contest against Sibal from there in the next election.

V Maitreyan, who had initiated the debate, said that even if the government is able to defeat the motion in Rajya Sabha "I give a solemn assurance to this House that after the next election, the next government will reverse the decision of the UPA."

He also said that even Government wins in this House it will be "Anand Sharma loses, Kamalnath wins". Because, if the government wins it is going to be the victory of management and not the policy because the majority of speakers in the House have opposed the policy.

His remark that he rises "to perform the last rites of UPA's policy of FDI in multi-brand retail" drew angry protests from Congress members.

Sharma earlier rejected the Opposition charge that the government did not consult political parties on the issue.

"I met 14 Chief Ministers and held discussions with them. I went to Punjab and met Akali leader and Chief Minister Parkas Singh Badal. I also met Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, who is also the Trinamool Congress chief. I met Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. I also wrote to all Chief Ministers and 19 of them responded."

Sharma claimed that discussions were also held between BJP President Nitin Gadkari and Finance Minister over lunch before taking the decision and rubbished the opposition charge that no consultation with stakeholders was held on FDI in retail.

"I had sent my Commerce Secretary thrice to Leader of the Opposition in both Houses - Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley. I have kept the Leaders of Opposition relentlessly informed of what we were doing," Sharma said.

The minister also said that BJP has also taken a number of executive decisions regarding the FDI and there were no political consultations on them.

Accusing the BJP of making a mountain out of a mole hill, the minister said Walmart would not need any public relation exercise if it comes to India as BJP has done it well.

"You have made such a big thing out of it that my wife and children got panicked and wondered whom did I bring in here. Who is this Walmart," Sharma said in a lighter vein to whichJaitley told him "if your family members are concerned then at least listen to them".

Sharma said that there was a reverse exercise (Sheershashan) of arguments on FDI in the House yesterday.

Countering the opposition charge of exaggerating figures in support of FDI in retail sector, Sharma claimed that around 35 per cent of fruits and vegetables in the country amounting to Rs 50,000 crore were wasted every year.

This was vociferously countered by the opposition, claiming that Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had given a different figure and Sharma was misleading the House.

Jaitley sought to know which figure of the government was correct. When Sharma refused to yield, Jaitley said, "You yield to the truth, not to me. It is in your minister's reply."

This led to uproarious scenes with opposition seeking an answer as to which figure was correct. "After all, there can only be one correct figure," said Jaitley, while Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said, "Give answer to the House. Sharad Pawar is right or wrong."

Backed govt as otherwise Oppn would have wanted its ouster: BSP

Facing criticism for bailing out the government on the FDI issue, BSP today said it voted with UPA in Rajya Sabha as its defeat would have lead the Opposition to demand its resignation everyday on the ground that it does not enjoy a majority.

In a statement, the party said though it had abstained during the voting in Lok Sabha, it decided to vote for the government as not doing so would have meant the Opposition-sponsored resolution on FDI in retail would have been passed.

"This would have given the Opposition another opportunity to play politics by using this issue as a pretext.

The Opposition would then have raised this issue everyday and not allowed the House to function which would have prevented passage of crucial bills related to people's welfare," the statement said.

Mayawati's party listed the SC/ST Reservation in Promotion Bill, Food Security Bill and Lokpal Bill as the main pending legislations.

"Most of these bills would have got stuck and the government would have used this (FDI in retail) case to put them in cold storage on the pretext that it does not want to seek a vote," the party said.

BSP had found loopholes in the FDI policy and suggested to the government on the floor of Parliament to do a study before implementing the policy, it said.

The party said that the fact that the Centre did not forcefully imposed this policy on states was a welcome step.

BSP also said it does not want to be seen standing along side parties which are encouraging communal forces, a reference to BJP.

"So, keeping all these aspects in mind, our party decided to vote with the government," it said.

Govt manoeuvred Parliament to win FDI vote : Left

Accusing the government of manoeuvring in Parliament to defeat the Opposition-sponsored motion against FDI in multi-brand retail trade, Left parties today said a "clear majority" of MPs in both Houses had opposed the move as was reflected in the debate.

The Left also attacked SP accusing it of opportunism and BSP's "dubious" position on the issue.

"The debate in both Houses of Parliament revealed that an overwhelming number of political parties representing a clear majority of MPs are not in favour of allowing FDI in retail trade. This reflects the views of the majority of the people of the country," CPI(M) Politburo said in a statement.

It also blamed Samajwadi Party and BSP for helping the government in getting the motion defeated, despite their opposition to the FDI move.

"Despite the opposition, the government was able to maneouvre to get the motion against FDI in retail trade defeated. This was possible due to the opportunism of SP and dubious position adopted by BSP. Both these parties spoke out against FDI in retail trade but acted in a manner to help the government succeed," the Politburo said after a two-day meeting here.

Maintaining that UPA government's decision to allow foreign supermarket chains in retail trade has met with "widespread opposition from all sections of the people throughout the country", it said that in Parliament, after refusing to accept a debate and vote on the issue, the government had to finally accede to the demand.

The "strong opposition" in Parliament and the "actual minority status" of the government on the issue should be used to intensify the struggle against the entry of Walmart and other supermarket chains into India", CPI(M) said, adding it would continue the campaign to mobilise public opinion to prevent the entry of the foreign supermarket chains.

CPI National Secretary D Raja said the government "cannot claim victory as an overwhelming majority of MPs have opposed the move. "They may have won the vote by numbers but the sense of the Houses remains overwhelmingly against the government's decision."

Both the Houses were virtually divided, he said adding "how can the government ignore such an overwhelming opposition?"

Decisive victory on FDI in retail in Rajya Sabha: Anand Sharma

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma today said government had achieved a "decisive victory" in Rajya Sabha on FDI in retail issue and alleged BJP is adopting "double standard" now as it had taken several executive decisions unilaterally when in power.

"This is an elected government. It has the mandate to rule. We had got a victory in the Lok Sabha and it was a decisive victory today in the Rajya Sabha," Sharma told reporters outside Parliament House after the voting on FDI.

He alleged the Opposition, especially BJP, is creating a fear psychosis in the minds of small traders and those sales boys and girls who are engaged in retail trade.

"BJP is adopting double standard and different yardsticks. They took several executive decisions in which no stakeholders or political parties, including the then main opposition, were ever consulted. NDA opened up the defence sector, allowed 100 per cent FDI in pharmaceuticals, opened telecom and airport sectors," Sharma said.

The minister maintained the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had "insulted" young sales boys and girls from families which are financially weak as well as the 10-12 crore people involved in retail trade.

He alleged Jaitley gave wrong figures during the debate in the Rajya Sabha.

"My advice to the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha is that he should fire his resource team and hire a new one," Sharma said.

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