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India after the Bandh: Let the people roar

September 24, 2012 14:53 IST

Is it that the entire Opposition is misleading the people with falsehoods, and the only repository of patriotism, truth and national interest is the Congress party, asks Tarun Vijay

If a prime minister addresses the nation not on the calamity the people are facing but to espouse the cause of foreigners, where can the hapless citizens go to seek redressal of their woes?

Sadly, the PM's address to the nation on September 20 was full of bravado and in a language that didn't suit a great nation's CEO. Thanks for telling us that money doesn't grow on trees, but who says so? The common man earns money through hard labour, which is squandered by those who occupy high office and feel that money grows in their backyard!

He was short on facts when he mockingly asked the disapproving state governments not to poke their nose if other provinces are choosing to allow FDI in their regions. His words were: 'State governments have been allowed to decide whether foreign investment in retail can come into their state.'

It's wrong, Mr Prime Minister. No state has the power to stop such endeavour, as the FDI would arrive under an agreement with the Union government and have national application rather than state-wise case approval.

He was contemptuous of his democratically elected fellow leaders and political parties who form a formidable opposition to his policy on FDI in retail trade. Many of them were his colleagues just yesterday, and many are highly respected public leaders in their own right. The speech writer did injustice to a man known otherwise for his suave and placid mannerism, but the PM didn't add grace by turning a blind eye to such strong and bad words against the Opposition.

Is the Opposition spreading fear on the basis of falsehood? Is the Opposition misleading the people? A government goes back on its promise to the nation made in Parliament, and here is the PM of the nation alleging that the Opposition is using canards. Did you really mean that, Mr Prime Minister?

Nothing was said about corruption, and how minister after monster and MP after another are being found guilty of making huge amounts of hot money in Coalgate and various other scams. Nothing about the resolve to bring back black money. Nothing about how every single big player in the Indian retail market is incurring huge losses. Instead he spoke about the cold storage facilities that may come with FDI.

But look, the same arguments were given when the nuclear treaty with the United States was signed and approved in Parliament through an ugly 'cash for votes' method. And the result? Till now, not a single mega watt of nuclear power has been generated.

Absolutely nothing has been done on that front.

And now, the same sweet dreams are being sold to the people, just to placate the foreigners who badly need the Indian market. Is it that the entire Opposition is misleading the people with falsehoods, and the only repository of patriotism, truth and national interest is now the poor Congress party?

Loud mouths go on television channels to announce that the National Democratic Alliance had also supported FDI in retail during the AB Vajpayee regime.

On December 16, 2002, Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi attacked the NDA government during Zero Hour thus: 'I would like to draw the attention of the government through you, as it is alleged that the multinational retailers through the bureaucratic circles are continuously putting pressure on the government to take an anti-national decision on allowing foreign direct investment in the retail trade. This will perhaps destroy the entire prospect of the retail trade in the country. Sir, so far I know that in the month of July, the Group of Ministers deciding on the limits of FDI rejected the proposal of allowing the FDI into retail trade. In the month of June the task force of the Planning Commission on Employment headed by Dr SP Gupta categorically advised not to allow FDI into retail trade on account of its adverse consequences on employment. Sir, lakhs and lakhs of retail shops would be closed and multi nationals would capture all the shops in the country (interruptions).'

On this, then Commerce Minister Arun Shourie replied in the House: 'Sir, the existing policy since 1997, as you know and as the hon. member knows, is that foreign direct investment in retail trade is not permitted. As the hon. member rightly said, the NK Singh committee also seems to have come to the same conclusion.' (Lok Sabha debates, December 16, 2002).

Now, Dasmunshi, a veteran Congress leader, was describing FDI in retail as an 'anti-national act'. And he wanted the NDA government to assure that it will not be allowed. The NDA government's commerce minister duly assured him so and said this was not our policy. Still, this government, led by the Congress, has done exactly what its own leader had opposed once. And it is the arrogance of the Congress that they are alleging that the NDA supported FDI.

Here is another truth, a biter one though.

Fourteen Indian political parties representing a majority of members of Parliament (336 members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) were opposing FDI in retail last week, reducing the United Progressive Alliance to a minority Congress government for a day.

Yet the government issued a notification to open the Indian retail market to foreign players.

What a roar, that failed to impress even its allies, and what a rollback on the word they gave to the nation in Parliament!

A few lines would suffice to hear the noise they would love to call a roar. Permit me to reproduce the text from the Lok Sabha, a bit boring it might be, but it serves a purpose and can be used as a reference elsewhere, too.

LOK SABHA

Wednesday, December 7, 2011/ Agrahayana 16, 1933 (Saka)

STATEMENT BY MINISTER

Government's decision to suspend permission of 51 percent FDI in multibrand retail trade

THE MINISTER OF FINANCE (SHRI PRANAB MUKHERJEE): Madam Speaker, with your permission, I would just like to make a small statement. Madam Speaker, the decision to permit 51 per cent FDI in multibrand retail trade is suspended till a consensus is developed through consultation amongst various stakeholders. I convened a meeting of leaders of all political parties this morning. Earlier also, I had a meeting with them to discuss on how to resolve this impasse due to which Parliament was not functioning properly.

I am glad that all the Leaders have agreed to this formulation but they wanted to have some clarifications. I am seeking your permission to provide that clarification that stakeholders include the chief ministers of the state governments and political parties because without the involvement of the state chief ministers, this can never be implemented.

Therefore, the government will take a decision after a consensus is developed through the process of consultations amongst all stakeholders.

After this solemn assurance, the government notified FDI in retail on September 20, 2012, saying that issues of national importance can't wait and we must be ready to take harsh decisions.

Very well said. But the same kind of harsh decision was needed to be taken in regard to the coal block allocation policy. The government chose to wait for nine years and let the wealth of coal blocks be distributed freely to Congress fundraisers and took a democratically high moral ground to delay the passage of the bill in Parliament that would have saved millions of rupees for the exchequer and the embarrassment the government is facing today on that count.

A senior minister said in a TV interview: Dismissing any deliberate delay in bringing auction policy for coal block allocation, Union Minister Kapil Sibal today said the government would not have overruled objections by Opposition chief ministers as UPA did not have majority to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

Another minister said: 'Resistance delayed amending Acts to enable auction of coal blocks'. Taking on the Opposition on the coal blocks allocation issue, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid on Monday said the BJP governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were strongly against the adoption of the auction route for coal blocks.

So, see the hilarious roar of the government on these two counts. On one issue the government breaks its promise and moves ahead without caring for the opposition of a majority of political parties. On another issue it delays a bill for nine years citing resistance by opposition, and claiming it is too democratic to take a decision unless all stakeholders form a consensus.

Is this honesty and transparency?

Does this add substance and purposefulness to the roar of the government?

Rich men's clubs like the Confederation of Indian Industry and Associated Chambers of Commerce, who keep a studied silence when billions of poor peoples' hard-earned money is stashed in foreign banks and scandals ruin the economy, will certainly welcome this move as they had already come out in support of the government by issuing a press statement on the day the Opposition observed a bandh, claiming a Rs 12,500 crore loss due to the disruption tactics of those who protested against the Congress's policies.

If the government is seen as standing against those who are fighting corruption, industry is seen as standing against those who oppose the Congress's corruption.

Even if we buy the Congress's logic for argument's sake, can it be believed that all these parties and their leaders are playing with the future of the nation and working against the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged masses, by opposing FDI in retail, protesting the rise in diesel price and limiting the number of cooking gas cylinders per family to a torturous six a year?

The Bharatiya Janata Party, Left parties, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal-United and Telugu Desam Party, make for an awesome majority at least on the FDI issue. Are these parties blind to the national interest and the only party, isolated but supported by the rich and influential, concerned about the national interest is the Congress?

If the only repository of national wisdom that is driven by an unending urge to do good to the millions of Indians seeking prosperity and good governance is the poor man's Congress, it is also a party seen to be embroiled in unprecedented scandals and blamed for allowing the loot of national wealth.

The sudden barrage of advertisements released to the media announcing the dawn of good governance and effective government policies can't be taken as a regular, routine procedural matter. It must be explained if the government tried to garner media support at a critical juncture through such a brazen move.

Industrial houses, big traders and financial controllers tend to support the government of the day, at any time, in any regime, as they are concerned for their interests more than the larger national issues. Yet, to pooh-pooh the voices of those who represent a vast majority, cutting across diametrically-opposed ideologies and the political spectrum, is a naive attempt to ignore the ground realities for some lucrative consideration, to put it mildly.

The arrogance of the ruling elite is so markedly nauseating that Dr Manmohan Singh needs no enemies from the outside. Bad and foul language on TV by Congress stalwarts shows their frustration and defeatist mentality.

This India has to change for the better and make way for a socio-political change that will put us on par with the best of the nations. Look at how Barack Obama inspired his country with words that came straight from his heart. The new leader of China, Xi Jinping, has started making waves the world over even before he has formally assumed charge. That's the power and youthful energy a nation on the move emits.

India after last week's Bandh will have to find a new voice of strength and a decisive path. There is no alternative. If leaders fail, let the people emerge as the guiding, rebellious force, a la Chanakya.

Tarun Vijay is a member of the Rajya Sabha; member, Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs; and national spokesperson of the BJP. He is also honorary director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Tarun Vijay