Retail votes of rivals

New Delhi, Dec. 7: Foreign direct investment in retail passed the trial in Parliament by sailing through the Rajya Sabha today, exposing chinks in the Opposition armour.

As many as 123 upper House MPs voted in favour of FDI and 102 against. This means that even if the BSP's 15 MPs had walked out, the government would have bagged 108 votes, six more than the Opposition.

However, Mayawati stuck to the declaration she made in the House yesterday and voted with the UPA. The Samajwadi Party's nine MPs, too, stayed on course and walked out. Had either of the two parties voted against the government, the outcome would have been different.

The surprise came in the shape of three Telugu Desam MPs and a Shiv Sena nominee who is also an industrialist ( ). Lalhming Liana, a Mizo National Front MP whose party is against the Congress but who personally favours FDI, absented himself. A JD(U) dissident, Upendra Kushwaha, voted with the government.

The Opposition smelt a rat. BJP's Venkaiah Naidu alleged it was "mysterious" that three Desam MPs ' Devender T. Goud, G. Sudharani and Y.S. Chowdary ' absented themselves. The other two Desam members ' Nandmuri Harikrishna and C.M. Ramesh ' voted with the Opposition.

"The government is sure to win so we aren't taking this vote seriously," Goud said before he left the Parliament premises in the afternoon.

The name of Sena nominee Dhoot, an industrialist and brother of Videocon's Venugopal Dhoot, was among the 19 absentees, including some with valid reasons like the Eden Test that kept back Sachin Tendulkar.

Immediately after the vote, Dhoot was seen rushing into the House as deputy chairperson P.J. Kurien kept announcing his name to introduce two private members' bills � one on illegal immigrants and another to protect farmers from exploitation.

Dhoot declined to comment when The Telegraph contacted him later in the evening.

Sena leader Sanjay Raut said: "The entire row in which Dhoot was sitting had a problem with electronic voting. So he voted using a paper. He has not abstained. He voted in line with the party whip and against the UPA."

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath later termed the vote a "rejection" of the BJP's politics and dismissed the allegations.

In a statement, the BSP explained its decision to vote with the government. "Our vote is in the national interest. We didn't want the Opposition to win because they would then have disrupted House proceedings every day demanding that the government should resign and stalled passage of important legislation, including that on reservation in promotion of SC/ST government employees," the statement said.

The statement also noted the "plus-point" in the Centre's FDI policy, which is not "thrusting" the decision on state governments. "Above all, our party didn't want to stand alongside political parties that are strengthening communal forces," it said.

The AIADMK's V. Maitreyan, who moved the motion, called it a "victory of manoeuvrability". Maitreyan gave a "solemn assurance" that the "next government at the Centre will reverse this decision of the UPA", which received applause from the entire Opposition.

Commerce minister Anand Sharma deployed his filibustering skills and kept speaking till the MPs took the benches after lunch. He quoted out of context a report that JD(U)'s N.K. Singh had authored as finance secretary on FDI and apologised after it was evident from the faces of UPA floor managers Kamal Nath and Rajeev Shukla that the government's supporters had turned up.

Sharma used the time also to reply to Arun Jaitley. Sharma said Jaitley had "insulted" young sales boys and girls from families that are financially weak as well as the 10-12 crore people involved in retail trade.

The minister said Wal-Mart would not need to hire a public relations agency as the BJP had already done that work.

"You have made such a big thing out of it that my wife and children wonder whom did I bring in here. Who is this Wal-Mart?" Sharma said, to which Jaitlely responded: "If your family members are concerned, at least listen to them, if not us."

A big star of the day was Rekha Ganeshan who made an appearance at 2.30pm, just minutes before the vote. Rekha's arrival prompted several MPs to walk up to her to wish her and try explaining the electronic voting procedure.