The much-anticipated two-day debate on the government’s decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail got off to a spirited start in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, with both the Opposition and the Congress fiercely defending their stands.
But, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had the government on tenterhooks a day ahead of the vote on a resolution opposing the FDI move. Even as they asked the government to reconsider the decision, both the parties were at best ambivalent on their voting stance.
“Why do you want us to tell what will happen tomorrow,” SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav told reporters when asked about the vote. The FDI decision is being debated under rule 184 that entails voting.Kick-starting the debate, leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj pointed out how US President Barak Obama was promoting small shops through the policy of "small business Saturdays". "Obama took his two daughters to buy books at a small neighbourhood shop," she said.
“Wal-Mart faces allegations of corruption and bribery. Does this decision to allow FDI also stems out of corruption — this will lead the country to disaster,” the BJP leader asked.
Swaraj and Trinamool's Saugata Roy also heavily relied on reports to suggest that China would be the biggest beneficiary, as “90% products” sold by retail giants in India would come from the neighbouring country.
Studies showed that 84% sales of Wal-Mart were at the expense of local shops while one of six small shops had to fold up because of retail giants, they claimed.
The ruling coalition's first speaker HRD minister Kapil Sibal stressed that the policy was not binding on the states. He said the decision would benefit farmers, small industries, youth as well as consumers.
Earlier, in her speech marred by interruptions, Swaraj cited former Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi's remarks in Parliament that FDI in retail was “anti-national”.
Dismissing commerce minister Anand Sharma's claim that the entry of foreign retail giants would create 40 lakh direct jobs, Swaraj said, “Only if the retailers set up 18,000 shops - at every road crossing of the big cities - can they provide 40 lakh jobs.”
She also said McDonald's didn't buy potatoes from Indian farmers but imported them. In a release issued later, the American fast-food chain said it procured all its raw materials from India and rarely imported potatoes.
Reading out from the BJP's 2004 and 2009 manifestos, Sibal said, “In 2004, you were in support of 26% FDI in multi-brand retail. But in 2009, you changed stand because you lost elections.” He argued that the government needed to boost the economy as it was facing deficit in both fiscal and current account.
Trinamool's Roy wanted to know why the government always took up divisive issues ahead of US elections. “In 2008, you went ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal. This time before the US polls, you announced the FDI in multi-brand retail policy.”
Before the discussions started, opposition members objected to Speaker Meira Kumar's suggestion to club the voting on the FDI debate under Rule 184 with the amendments to the FEMA regulations. The Speaker upheld the Opposition's right to move further amendments in future while ruling in favour of a composite vote.