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Mainstream, VOL L, No 50, December 1, 2012

Whither Congress?


Monday 3 December 2012, by SC


The logjam over how to discuss in Parliament the issue of the government’s introduction of FDI in retail has finally been broken today. The Manmohan Singh dispensation, having succeeded in bringing the DMK on board, is now confident of its numbers in the Lok Sabha; and hence it eventually agreed to the Opposition (primarily the BJP and Left) demand for discussion on the subject under relevant rules in both Houses that allow voting at the end of the debate. Such a possibility had been mentioned in these columns last week and that is precisely what happened today.

Taking note of the latest developments on this score, The Hindu has pointed out:

To be sure, a defeat on FDI would not have obliged the government to resign. But it would have exposed its lack of majority on the floor of the House, leading to the charge that the regime ruled without a mandate. For the Prime Minister, who has been the most strident on FDI, it would have been a personal embarrassment at a time when he was surely hoping to cement his legacy as the quintessential reforms man. The stakes were indeed high for Dr Singh and the team he led, which explains why Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath put in the leg work he did to bring around the DMK as well as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

What The Hindu does not spell out is the pressure from abroad (read the US) that played a critical role in this regard. This was more than transparent in the speech delivered by outgoing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Singapore Management University as late as on November 17. In the course of her address Hillary, who has strong business connections with Walmart, underlined the following:

Recently we saw a break-through when India retooled its policy on foreign direct investment. Their old rules barred companies that carry multiple brands in one store—like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco, or similar foreign companies—from doing retail business in the Indian market. That limited competition. But, more than that, it prevented the kind of knowledge transfer and supply chain modernisation that India needs. So we and—I should note—other countries, as well, raised this issue with India’s leaders at the highest level for years. And we are pleased that Delhi has now agreed to loosen its restrictions.

Obviously spurred by such pressure Dr Manmohan Singh had declared in his televised address to the nation that he would “go down fighting” for such a cause as FDI in retail that had evoked protests and engendered both opposition and reservation among political parties of various shades in the country.

Meanwhile the government has declared a new direct cash transfer scheme which, according to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, “is a path-breaking game-changer”. This scheme too has generated considerable controversy. The Left parties, for instance, have opposed the scheme with the CPI-M leadership agreeing with Chidambaram that it was “indeed a game-changer” but one whose rules were weighted against the poor and mirrored the UPA-II Government’s “obsessive commitment to cut subsidies to the working people”. The CPI-M’s basic objection to this move, its leadership explains, is because it is a “policy shift away from provision of foodgrains, kerosene, fertilisers etc. instead of providing for a universal PDS at controlled prices”.

This point was highlighted yesterday at the ongoing Jan Sansad in New Delhi, as seen from the accompanying report.

And as for the newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal, it has characterised the scheme as the government’s way of “bribing” the voters. The Congress, as anticipated, has stoutly denied this allegation but the denial fails to carry conviction.

With all the backing from abroad, can the Congress’ reform agenda score over its erstwhile course of standing by the poor and marginalised majority even rhetorically? Come elections (to be held most probably in the first half of next year), and the people will give a befitting rebuff to Manmoha-nomics that is, from all indications, expected to be the undoing of the Sonia Congress (as it has become the source of the party’s alienation from the public at large).

November 29 S.C

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