The Lok Sabha on Wednesday rejected the BJP-sponsored motion that sought withdrawal of the UPA decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.
The Congress-led UPA won the numbers as the motion, moved by the leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, got 218 votes in favour and 253 against it. The archrivals in Uttar Pradesh, the SP and BSP, walked out with a combined strength of 43.
“The FDI policy that we have put in place has the approval of this House,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Swaraj replied with a statement that of the 18 parties that participated in the debate, 14 — with 282 MPs — opposed the policy. “Unfortunately, it seems to have become an FDI versus CBI in the end.”
Swaraj suggested that the government used the CBI to pressure BSP chief Mayawati and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both opposed the policy, but abstained from voting — ultimately helping the government.
While Yadav said his party had decided to abstain, BSP leader in the Lok Sabha Dara Singh Chauhan said they staged a walkout as the government ignored their concerns on FDI. Congress sources, however, claimed that UPA floor managers had been working behind the scene to win over the tacit support of both the parties.
While the vote demonstrated the government's ability to manoeuvre the two parties, it also exposed the ruling combination's vulnerability: Its score of 253 is 19 less than 272, the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha.
The first floor test after the Trinamool Congress' exit from the UPA over FDI and showed that the government would have to constantly negotiate with the SP and BSP for its survival.
The gap between the Opposition and the government was 35, as the 18 TMC MPs voted with the BJP.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said on Facebook: "The mandate today proves that UPA 2 is a minority government."
But the voting on FDI would have no bearing on the survival of the government or the FDI policy itself even if it had lost it, except causing embarrassment. The government initially wanted to avoid voting, arguing that its executive decision was not subject to parliamentary approval.
A bigger trouble, however, awaits the government in the Rajya Sabha. As the arithmetic in the Upper House is tilted in favour of the Opposition, the government will need the BSP to vote in its favour to save its face.
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