Now that the Government has agreed for a vote in Parliament on its decision to open up multi-brand retailing to foreign direct investment (FDI), all eyes are on the wording of the motion on which a debate followed by voting would take place in both Houses.
The notice moved by the Opposition is for a motion that reads “This House disapproves the Government’s decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail”.
The ruling Congress-led alliance may not find it comfortable to put a motion as explicit as this for a vote, especially when its allies, such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are still giving confusing signals on the stance they would ultimately take during the debate.
Both these Uttar Pradesh-centred parties know they cannot afford to easily ignore the concerns of the trading communities, who wield considerable political influence in their State. The main Opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been largely playing on these fears of local traders over FDI in retail.
On Saturday, the former BJP President, Rajnath Singh, virtually threw down the gauntlet at the two parties, while asking them to “clarify” their position by voting against the Government on the issue.
The Government, on its part, seems confident it can cobble up the numbers in the Lok Sabha. Things are somewhat different in the Upper House, where the Government has assured support from less than 100 out of the total 244 members. Either way, the wording of the motion — instead of outright ‘disapproval’, it could simply ‘caution’ the Government on implementation — assumes importance.
Equally, there is the other dilemma before the Government on the amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) regulations necessary for effecting its decision to permit 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail and 100 per cent in single-brand retail.
The notification amending the FEMA regulations have already been issued by the Reserve Bank of India and were laid in Parliament on Saturday by the Minister of State for Finance, Namo Narain Meena.
The above regulatory amendments take automatic effect if members do not move any statutory motions against them within 30 sittings of the Parliament. But with the Left parties deciding to move resolutions in both Houses to disapprove the amendments, the question arises whether even these will be subjected to voting.
Since 30 sittings could spill over to the next Budget session, the Government is concerned about the Opposition using FDI in retail to embarrass it all over again.
As of now, the main ruling party is putting up a brave face, expressing complete confidence in the passage of both the FDI motion and the resolution with regard to the FEMA notification — provided it is moved — in the Lok Sabha. Even if it may not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha, victory in the Lower House would provide more than sufficient legitimacy from a political standpoint.
Wheat, sugarcane prices
Most of the time in Parliament this week is likely to be taken up by the debate on FDI, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in the Lok Sabha and Thursday and Friday in the Rajya Sabha.
The outcome of the debate may have a bearing on two other decisions having major political overtones. The first relates to the minimum support price for this year’s wheat crop.
The Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices had earlier recommended a freeze in the price at last year’s level of Rs 1,285 a quintal. But the Government, aware of its political implications, has asked the panel to rework its calculations again, keeping in view the rising cost of diesel and fertilisers. The MSP is yet to be formally announced, despite the bulk of plantings already over.
The same goes for sugarcane, where the SP Government in Uttar Pradesh is yet to announce its state advised price (SAP) for the crop that is already being crushed by mills.
“If the vote in Parliament may be an augury for early general elections, one may get to see steep hikes in both the wheat MSP and cane price. If the Government comes out unscathed, any populism would be deferred to the next year”, a political analyst noted.