Why not vote on FDI in retail?

There is a legitimate apprehension in the country about whether the current Parliament session will go on or be disrupted. This is on account of a virtual breakdown of the relationship between the government and the opposition in terms of political dialogue. Obviously, such a situation is not desirable in a democracy. Consensus on various issues is possible and at times it is the pressing need of the hour. But in an environment where the government of the day survives on manipulation and creates an environment of political confrontation, consensus will always be elusive.

On December 7, 2011, the government assured both Houses of Parliament that the decision to introduce FDI in multibrand retail would remain in abeyance till the it consulted all stakeholders and arrived at a consensus. The stakeholders were described as the state governments and political parties, among others. There has been no serious effort by the government, since then, to engage political parties or state governments. When we raised this issue with the government, the answer was that the it had assured Parliament that it would consult and arrive at a consensus with political parties and state governments — it had not assured Parliament that it would consult "all" political parties and "all" state governments.

The government, obviously, was being too clever by half. As the opposition, we still relented. We assured the government that the Parliament session would function normally, provided the first item on the agenda was a discussion on FDI in multibrand retail under a voting provision. Once this debate took place, the rest of the business, including legislative business, would go on. The UPA government contrived an argument that a voting resolution on a policy matter had never taken place. We cited precedents that, in fact, Parliament had debated policy matters under a voting provision.

Why should voting be considered alien to a parliamentary democracy? In fact, democracy is a game of numbers. Voting is the essence of democracy. There has to be a parliamentary control over executive decisions. A parliamentary disapproval of executive decisions through censure motions is the normal rule. Issues cannot be merely talked out. They have to be voted on in order to determine the sovereign will. There is now a lurking suspicion that the government will not agree to a voting provision till such time that the "regular suspects" among the loyal opposition parties have been managed, either to vote with the government or to abstain from voting. It appears that the government does not seriously want the session to go on. It is creating a situation conducive to a stalemate.

My expectation from this session is that we should seriously discuss the state of the economy. The GDP growth rate has substantially declined. There is fear that the growth story of the Indian economy is being diluted. There is a danger that the "I" may be knocked out of the BRICS. The government has attempted to create an impression that it wants to introduce the new generation of reforms. It has brought a bad name to the word "reform". Reforms are the art of the possible. If reforms are marketed purely as anti-people, their visible face being price rise, increase in diesel cost, increase in cooking gas cost, restrictions on cooking gas quotas, popularsanction will not be there behind reforms.

The farm sector is in a precarious condition. Infrastructure expansion has slowed down. The power sector suffers from coal shortage and is moving into a debt trap. The manufacturing sector suffers from high interest rates, lack of trade facilitation, high power costs and large currency depreciation.

The issue of corruption has to be debated in the current House. There is consensus on a large number of issues in the report of the select committee on the Lokpal Bill. There is, however, no unanimity on all issues. Some further reforms, over and above those suggested by the select committee, are required to strengthen the freedom of the CBI from the clutches of the government. The surreptitious manner in which the new CBI director was appointed by the government, rather than by the collegium, on the eve of the submission of the select committee report, has set a bad precedent. It has sent out an impression that the government is uncomfortable about letting go of its control over the CBI, which has been used to secure its own longevity. The scam in the allocation of coal blocks requires to be debated at length in Parliament.

The session started with a pathetic attempt by the government to choreograph controversy by bringing a bad name to the institution of the CAG. The rehashed story, attributed to a former official of the CAG, hit the headlines. The UPA chairperson herself also participated in this choreography by suggesting that the loss figures in the 2G spectrum allocation were attributable to the BJP. The government cut a sorry figure when the official concerned turned hostile in the course of a television interview and altered the identity of the person who had allegedly interfered with the CAG recommendation. It was no longer the PAC chairperson, Murli Manohar Joshi, but some unidentifiable member of the PAC who had allegedly interfered in the CAG report.

Important legislative business is pending. We in the opposition would like to cooperate by arriving at a consensus on a significant part of this business. However, before we can reach that stage, the government will have to resolve the stalemate pending on the issue of FDI in retail. The earlier the government is able to resolve it with a voting provision, the easier it will be for parliamentary functioning.

The writer is the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, express@expressindia.com

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