Confident UPA set for FDI vote, return to lawmaking

HT Correspondent

New Delhi, Nov. 27 -- The ruling UPA coalition appeared set to allow a vote on its decision to permit foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, paving the way for a return to normal functioning of Parliament and the clearing of a logjam in lawmaking. The clincher for the government was a statement of support from southern ally DMK, which said it didn't want to give any room for the Opposition BJP to come to power. Two key outside supporters - the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - have already indicated tacit backing, although they are unlikely to vote in favour of the government.

The divisive issue of multi-brand retail has taken up a disproportionate amount of the House's attention, resulting in four days of lost work due to disruption at a time key bills such as insurance, pension fund amendments and lokpal are pending.

"We are confident of the numbers," PM Manmohan Singh told reporters after a meeting of the UPA allies attended by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, whose presence observers said was intended to signal both the party's commitment to retail FDI and Rahul's growing involvement in coalition management.

When it was still busy mopping up the numbers, the UPA's position had been that the executive decision on FDI could not be voted upon in Parliament. The Opposition had cited the precedent of voting on the privatisation of aluminium producer Balco - another executive decision - in 2001.

Speaker Meira Kumar is likely to accept the Opposition's demand for a discussion under rule 184, which entails voting in the Lok Sabha when the House resumes work on Thursday after the Guru Nanak birthday holiday on Wednesday. The winter session of Parliament will be left with 16 working days to plough through a huge backlog of lawmaking.

While it is the Speaker's prerogative to decide on whether to allow a vote, convention dictates that the ruling party's consent is sought.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said that he would convey to the Speaker that the allies want her to decide on the mode of debate. "The government is not averse to a discussion under any rule," he said.

The 15th Lok Sabha has already turned out to be one of the most disruptive sessions in parliamentary history, with the Opposition disrupting the House on issues such as the Coalgate and 2G telecom spectrum scams.

While DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi spoke in Chennai about keeping the BJP at bay, the party's cooperation is likely to be linked to getting a full-fledged discussion on the 2G spectrum issue, over which Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and former DMK minister A Raja were jailed.

"The UPA government's continuance is a must in the present situation. Though we have differences on FDI, we will support the government to avert the UPA's fall. We not want to give room for the BJP to come to power," Karunanidhi said.

With the support of SP, BSP and DMK, the UPA can not only defeat the Opposition-sponsored resolution rejecting the FDI policy in Lok Sabha but also in Rajya Sabha, where it is in minority.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.