Nationwide stir by BJP against foreign investment in retail sector

New Delhi/Hyderabad/Chennai, Nov.21 (ANI): Leaders and activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staged nationwide protest rallies on Wednesday against foreign direct investment (FDI) in the domestic retail market.

In New Delhi, several BJP leaders addressed a rally at Jantar Mantar.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari questioned the wisdom of government on the issue of letting FDI in the retail sector.

He highlighted the reported charges of graft being paid by the US retail giant Wal-Mart to certain people in the government for the 'Open Sesame' to make its presence in India.

"I want to pose a question to the Congress and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, and it is that the management of the mega companies like Wal-Mart are alleging that they paid huge bribes to come to this country, the Congress party and the UPA government should reply that which minister and which party leader have taken the bribes from Wal-Mart? The UPA government should clarify this to the nation. This is my demand," said Gadkari.

According to official sources, Indian agencies are investigating claims that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated foreign exchange rules when it invested $100 million in a domestic unit owned by its wholesale joint-venture partner, Bharti Enterprises.

A lawmaker first raised the allegations in a letter to the Prime Minister in early September, and the complaint was subsequently passed from one government department to another without action being taken.

On its part, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has denied any wrongdoing. The allegations relate to the company's complex investment through debentures-which could later be converted to an equity stake-at a time when direct ownership by foreign firms was prohibited.

Parties opposed to the new retail policy, which include some allies in the ruling coalition, may use the investigation to fan suspicion among supporters against foreign retailers including Wal-Mart whose entry is seen threatening the livelihoods of local mom-and-pop store owners.

BJP activists also demonstrated in large numbers over the issue in Hyderabad .

Senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu accused the government of going back on its assurances for seeking a political consensus on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.

"You (the ruling Congress party) had given an assurance to parliament that all the stakeholders including the Chief Ministers, political parties would be consulted and the government will move further action only after forming consensus. What happened to that assurance? You cannot insult, you cannot bypass the parliament like this," said Naidu.

Similar protest rallies were taken out in Chennai. BJP supporters held placards and banners and took to the streets in protest.

The president of the BJP's Tamil Nadu unit, Pon Radhakrishnan, said they would carry on the protest for a longer duration if the Congress party-led federal government does not relent.

"Today in Tamil Nadu all the people are opposing this step. We are opposing the government not to bring foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail trade. Today we have started our agitation. It will continue for another twenty days throughout Tamil Nadu," said Radhakrishnan.

On September 15, the government endorsed a policy that would let retail sector open for foreign investors.

The cabinet also approved bills to attract FDI into insurance and pensions in the latest move by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to restore confidence in the economy, but the reforms will face a tough fight in parliament.

Political tensions over the issue are rising high as chief minister of eastern India's West Bengal state and former ally in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress are planning to move a no-confidence motion against the government in this session of the parliament.

The winter session of the Parliament will commence from November 22 and end on December 20. (ANI)