It has been one of the most divisive issues in recent times and one which brought Parliament to a standstill several times much to the dismay of the public. Now at last, one contentious issue has been resolved with the Lok Sabha vote going the government’s way with 253 voting against the BJP’s motion seeking the withdrawal of the government’s decision to have 51% FDI in multi-brand retail. There were 218 votes in favour of the motion in a House of 471. Of course, there was all the drama and emotion we have come to associate with debates on such controversial issues. But at least all sides were heard and a vote taken. The government had resisted the vote but finally gave in owing to persistent demands from the Opposition. Clearly the Congress has done its political management well. With the BSP and the SP walking out before the vote, the government sailed through.
The BJP certainly put up a good fight with the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, who moved the motion, making a fierce pitch against FDI in retail. But the BJP was always on somewhat shaky ground given that long ago and far away it had actually supported FDI in retail. In addition, its apprehensions that foreign companies coming into multi-brand retail will source their products from outside seem unfounded given past experience. But the more important point is that we have always demanded a level-playing field in international commerce and trade. Indian companies have taken over foreign businesses, the prominent among them being Jaguar Land Rover by the Tatas. Indians have taken over prized hotels and invested in several other areas abroad. The Indian economy is robust enough to withstand what many political parties seem to think is the ‘threat’ of FDI in retail. If they think that the Indian farmer is going to be ‘enslaved’, as one speaker put it, or will be driven out of business, we could well ask what our political worthies have done to make our agriculture more competitive and technologically efficient.
The arguments in favour of FDI in retail are far more persuasive than those against it. As one speaker put it, the decision can always be reversed if it is found that it is affecting local businesses and farmers in an adverse manner. Now that the vote is over, all parties must move forward and deal with the many legislations pending before Parliament. Enough time has been expended on this issue at the cost of other crucial matters which have a far more significant impact on the lives of millions of Indians. The commerce minister has said that this decision was taken after consulting all stakeholders. He has outlined the many benefits, including a drastic reduction in wastage of food, that will accrue from this decision. Now that it has been decided upon in the august house, it is incumbent on those who were opposed to it to respect this. This would be true democracy in action.