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Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012

UPA Wins in Parliament, but . . .


Wednesday 12 December 2012, by SC


The Union Government has been able to defeat in both Houses of Parliament motions opposing the Manmohan Singh dispensation’s decision to introduce 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail. On December 5, it was able to secure in the Lok Sabha a 253-218 majority (with both the SP and BSP, the parties supporting the government from outside, walking out just before the voting) while in the Rajya Sabha today the Opposition’s motion was defeated by 14 votes, that is, 109 for and 123 against (here the victory was significant as the ruling parties do not enjoy a majority in the Upper House; the UPA was bailed out by the BSP voting with the government and SP walking out of the House).

The nature of voting in both the Houses following threadbare discussions on the subject under scrutiny has been interpreted by the ruling parties as full endorsement by Parliament of the government’s policy announcement of FDI in retail. However, a close examination of the issue reveals the fallacy of such an assertion. The Congress managers had worked overtime to ensure that the government survives the floor test but that did not automatically mean that a majority of members in both the Houses supported FDI in retail, howsoever much the corporate-driven media seeks to give a different spin to the whole affair. Both the SP and BSP were and are still openly opposed to FDI in retail. But their behaviour in the two Houses to help the ruling alliance was not due to the latter’s ability to convincingly establish the need for FDI in retail. Ostensibly the BSP was peeved because the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha alluded to the Congress’ misuse of the CBI to get the pending investigations into the allegations against the party supremo, Mayawati, withdrawn.

Actually that was just an alibi. (In the case of the SP there was not even the figleaf of such an alibi!) The real reason behind the BSP’s mercurial behaviour in Parliament was the clandestine deal that the Congress was able to strike with it (of course, Mayawati will extract her pound of flesh and it is for the Congress to ponder over the cost of such an underhand accord to bring her on board). The same applies to the deal with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP. Nevertheless, what is indisputable is that the voting in the two Houses—and the Rajya Sabha in particular—exposed the fragility of the ruling establishment regardless of the kudos that the Congress’ floor managers are presently garnering.

True, nothing succeeds like success. Yet one nagging question remains unanswered: what was the urgency to allow FDI in retail, especially when its disadvantages far outweigh its advantages as projected by its votaries (this fact has come out in bold relief in the parliamentary debate)? This is precisely where the issue of foreign pressure comes to the fore. Last week in these columns the November 17 speech of Hillary Clinton, the outgoing US Secretary of State, at Singapore’s National Management University was brought into focus as she had pointed to the Government of India having succumbed to the Western (mainly US) pressure to open up the Indian markets for FDI in retail. Certain other disturbing developments have now come to our notice.

For example, in a recent note circulated by Gopal Krishna of ToxicWatch, it has been disclosed that MPs were invited to a closed-door interactive meeting, meant exclusively for Parliament Members, on FDI in retail on December 4 just prior to the debate on the subject in Parliament. The invitation went from the Policy Research Studies (PRS) Legislative Research. This closed-door meeting with MPs, according to Gopal Krishna’s note, “appears to be a manifest case of lobbying by the PRS which is under the Union Home Ministry’s scanner for accessing fund from Wal-Mart, eBay, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network etc.”. [It is noteworthy that the PRS Legislative Research is an NGO sponsored by the Ford Foundation and other agencies and comes under the ambit of the Centre of Policy Research Studies (CPRS). It was mentioned in a write-up in the New Indian Express last August that this year the CPRS had applied for approval to the Union Home Ministry to receive US $ 8,55,000 from the Ford Foundation and $ 1 million from Omidyar Network that belongs to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar respectively, to run a Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMP) scheme. And the MoS for Home, Mullapally Ramachandran, had categorically said: “The government thinks that it is not desirable that our legislators accept foreign support channeled through an NGO for their parliamentary research assistance” while refusing to entertain the application.]

But now the same PRS Legislative Research has been allowed to openly lobby with MPs for FDI in retail!

Several newspapers have alluded to lobbying by Ford Foundation, Wal-Mart and others, and Gopal Krishna underlines in his note that “there is a compelling logic for a parliamentary probe into the goings-on that subverts the legislative will of Parliament and compromises the country’s interests”, adding: “Unsuspecting MPs are being targeted by corporate lobbies.”

These are a matter of serious concern. But one apprehends that such exercises enjoy the blessings of the topmost figures in the UPA Government.

The Manmohan Singh dispensation is bending over backwards to convey to the Western world in general and the US in particular that it would leave no stone unturned to safeguard and promote the foreign investors’ interests. It is this essential attribute of Manmohanomics based on the World Bank’s IMF-prescription for progress which is antithetical to the project of realising national regeneration on the solid foundations of the Gandhi-Nehru paradigm of growth with equity, and hence must be decisively defeated in the coming days. The fight against FDI in retail at the mass level is an integral part of this effort and needs to be resolutely carried forward to build a popular movement against the pernicious consequences of Manmohanics staring us in the face.

December 7 S.C.

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