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HindustanTimes Thu,24 Apr 2014

There are no free lunches
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, December 07, 2012
First Published: 23:02 IST(7/12/2012)
Last Updated: 23:06 IST(7/12/2012)

It was almost a foregone conclusion after the Lok Sabha vote. The government has carried the day in the Rajya Sabha on the issue of FDI in retail. The Opposition's motion asking that the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail be dropped was opposed by 123 with 109 in favour and one abstention. And once again when it came down to the wire, it was the BSP and SP which came to the rescue. What many may not have expected after the walkout by both parties in the Lok Sabha, which handed the government the advantage in numbers, was for the BSP supremo Mayawati to openly declare her support for the government on this issue in the Rajya Sabha. It was the votes of her MPs which allowed the government to get through. But, this is clearly an indication that the BSP-SP tussle is taking place on the national stage. Her message to the government was that she is the more reliable ally as it sails into more choppy waters when it brings forward other economic reforms.

The fact that both parties actually oppose FDI in retail yet have allowed the UPA to push it through is unlikely to affect their support base in UP. This is what has driven their decision. For the majority of Indians, the issue of FDI in retail is not such an emotive or crucial one. Ms Mayawati knows well that her supporters in UP will understand that while she will oppose FDI in the state, it's imp-ortant that she supports the government in order to extract concessions for her vote-bank. Hence, we saw her asking for an Ambedkar memorial in Mumbai on the eve of the Lok Sabha vote. By doing this, she was safeguarding the interests of her core constituency, that of the Dalits. Similarly, Mulayam Singh Yadav's caste equations in UP will not change due to his indirect support to the government on FDI while opposing it in principle. While the UPA seems to be perfecting the fine art of coalition politics with its deft political management, it must be conceded that the Opposition, too, has played its part well. Even though there was every likelihood that the motion moved by it would be defeated in both Houses, the leaders of the Opposition came up with impassioned arguments against FDI.

But, the overt dependence on the SP and BSP could also prove a double-edged sword for the government in the long-run. Both parties are not going to dole out favours to save the UPA without extracting their price. This is where the government will have to negotiate skillfully to ensure that it doesn't become a pushover. This is going to be a difficult task knowing how intractable both Mr Yadav and Ms Mayawati can be. But with this latest showing in the Rajya Sabha, it can safely be said that the TMC is not likely to get its 15 minutes of fame - as it did earlier by trying to topple the government - in a hurry again.


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