FDI in retail: PM springs surprise, courts Jaya

Shekhar Iyer

New Delhi, Dec. 4 -- In a surprise move, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday sought the support of the AIADMK on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, urging it to re-consider its opposition in national interest. Singh made the appeal - though the move may raise the hackles of ADMK's arch rival in Tamil Nadu and the second largest party in the UPA, the DMK - when a delegation of ADMK MPs called on him to seek the Centre's help on various demands. The MPs agreed to convey his appeal to their leader, chief minister Jayalalithaa.

Indicating his keenness on the support of ADMK, the PM's move came a day ahead of debate and vote in the Lok Sabha on the issue.

The ADMK MPs' demands included a DAS (digital addressable system) licence for Arasu Cable TV Corp. Ltd, a state-owned cable television distribution network, and the entire 2,000 mw of power to be generated from the first two units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.

The DMK, the current ally of the Congress, only recently agreed to vote in favour of the government in Parliament in spite of its reservation on FDI into the retail sector. DMK chief Karunanidhi agreed to bail out the UPA, stating that he did not want the BJP-led "communal forces" to gain advantage.

The AIADMK has nine members in the Lok Sabha and five in the Rajya Sabha where the UPA is short of majority without the help of the Samajwadi Party or the BSP. The DMK, with 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha and seven in the Rajya Sabha, is the second largest party in the UPA after the Congress.

Interestingly, the PM told the AIADMK MPs that the Centre had already agreed to Tamil Nadu's demand for 1,000 mw from Kudankulam. But Jayalalithaa wants an additional 1,000 mw to tide over the state's power crisis. The Kudankulam plant has got a go-ahead after the state government cooperated with New Delhi to break up local protests against the nuclear power project.

As for a DAS licence for Arasu cable, the Centre told the state that licences had not been issued to any state-owned organisation for running cable TV networks as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Jayalalithaa launched Arasu Cables to break the monopoly of the pro-DMK Sumangali Cables, an arm of the Sun TV controlled by the Maran brothers, Kalanithi and Dayanidhi.

The broadcast sector regulator had recommended that neither state-owned local bodies nor religious organisations should be permitted to own TV channels. Interestingly, Arasu applied for a DAS licence on July 5, 2012.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.