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Analysis: Will Parliament function next week?

November 24, 2012 00:35 IST

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samjawadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party will have to change, modify or amend their stand on Foreign Direct Investment in retail to break the deadlock in Parliament, says Sheela Bhatt

If you happen to meet Arun Jaitley, leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, these days in Parliament and ask, "When will Parliament function?" He is likely to retort, "Did you ask Mulayam Singh Yadav?"

Mulayam has, once again, become the lifeline for the Congress party. And nothing suits the Bharatiya Janata Party more.

The more Mulayam goes closer to the Congress in New Delhi, the BJP gets more of the dwindling Brahmin, non-Yadav, non-Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh. Their opposition to the Foreign Direct Investment in retail ploy is also aimed at the Samajwadi Party's ground position in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP, Trinamool Congress and the Left parties are all dead against the government's decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail. The opposition to it is no more rhetoric. The BJP, Trinamool and Left parties mean business.  

It is becoming clearer that they will not allow the winter session of Parliament to function unless the government agrees to a debate on FDI in retail and allows voting. They don't care, even if the media and many people in cities and towns abhor the waste of money, time and energy of the parliamentary system.

The BJP, Trinamool and the Left parties are upbeat because the United Progressive Alliance's ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the government's two life lines --Samjawadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party -- have clearly opposed FDI in retail in India.

These three will have to change, modify or amend their stand on FDI in retail to break the deadlock in Parliament.

Even some Congressmen were explaining to the media on Friday that unless one of the three lifelines of the UPA (DMK, SP and BSP) positively vote in favour of the government and two others abstain on the issue, the government just can't allow a debate along with voting.

Also, just in case, the voting goes against the government, more than the embarrassment of losing a vote inside Parliament, the government will be stuck with the 'Parliament's decree' against FDI in retail. There is no way FDI in retail will be allowed if the Lok Sabha rejects it.

Even if by poaching dissent members of the Opposition parties and resorting to other debatable methods the government able to secure votes in the Lok Sabha, it seems difficult to win a similar vote in the Rajya Sabha. 

The loss of vote in a non-finance bill would not force the government to go but it will not be able to go ahead with FDI in retail. So, the government will have to manage the numbers by "poaching" on dissenters in various parties if it wants Parliament to function or it will end up getting some blame (not all) for a non-functioning Parliament.

There remains no doubt that the BJP is all set to not allow the government to get any credit for any far-reaching decisions. They think the drama over the voting on FDI in retail will be no less than what happened during the vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal when the government faced charges of bribery. 

Notwithstanding the public outcry over wastage of money in running the Parliament without any job being done, the National Democratic Allaiance and Left parties are absolutely convinced that the UPA is under pressure while they are in a win-win situation.

If the UPA manages its numbers the DMK, SP or BSP, one or more of these three parties will lose their face on home ground.

Mayawati has asked her MPs to not take any stand till she tells them to. Also, to get the votes in its favour the UPA will have "to give" something. The bargain will be tough between the Congress and these three parties.  

The issue of FDI in retail touches more than 15 per cent of the population of India. It is also about the culture of the Indian 'bazzar' that may undergo change in the long term, says NDA convenor Sharad Yadav. It's a battle of survival of 'mithai' against the onslaught of 'chocolate', he says.

 "What is this mysterious pressure (ajeeb dabav) on the government to stubbornly stick to its decision on FDI in retail?" asks Jaitley.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury went a step ahead and said, "In India each village has a gramdevta where people go before they venture out or start a new work. The Manmohan Singh government's gramdevta is America and multinational corporations."

Is the government in a position to protect its decision on FDI in retail? 

To repeat, set your eyes on Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Karunanidhi. At least one of them will have to eat crow and change its public stance on FDI in retail and vote along with the government.

DMK or Mayawati are more likely than Mualyam Singh Yadav to vote along with the government. Yadav is more reluctant and wants the government to solve its problem without asking for help that could embarrass him. One or two of these three parties will have to abstain. It's difficult to judge if Mualyam will agree to abstain. He has few more days in hand to decide. 

Also, the government will need a safe margin if it decides to allow voting. The BJP and the Trinamool Congress' dissenters will have to become disloyal and vote in favour of the government, only then can UPA implement the decision of FDI in multi-brand retail. 

It seems the government will have to be thick-skinned to allow a status quo and not feel touchy about a lock out of Parliament thinking they have no urgent bills pending till the budget session.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi