Although UPA government has somehow managed to scuttle Opposition's stiff antagonism to FDI in multi-brand retail in both the Houses of the Parliament, it has certainly opened itself to the charge of being a minority government, analyses Renu Mittal.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is back in business and is all set to push more reforms initiatives in Parliament over the next 10 days of the winter session after it won the vote in the Rajya Sabha on Friday, putting a stamp of approval on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.
The Rajya Sabha vote came two days after the Lok Sabha vote, and in the Upper House also the government was bailed out by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
While the nine SP MPs led by Ram Gopal Yadav walked out of the House, the 15 members of the Mayawati-led BSP voted in favour of the government and the FDI. The same party had walked out of the Lok Sabha just two days back, protesting against the FDI decision and had not participated in the vote. This had brought down the numbers making it easier for the government to win.
The final figures as announced by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari were 109 in favour of the Opposition-moved motion and 123 against the motion.
But the Rajya Sabha secretariat is doing a re-count of the numbers as the figures do not add up. Obviously there has been some duplication in the counting. The strength of the Rajya Sabha is 245 members with one vacancy caused by former Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's demise. For the moment the strength of the House is 244 members. If you add up 109 and 123 it is 232. Add to this the 9 SP members who walked out and it is 241. That means only 3 MPs were absent for the vote, but actually the list of absentees was longer -- so the numbers now adding up are more than the actual strength of the House. The new figures are yet to be announced.
Amongst those absent was Sachin Tendulkar who is playing the Kolkata test against Engalnd, Murli Deora of the Congress who is ill in Mumbai, Priye Mohan Mohapatra who has been removed from the Biju Janata Dal and did not come to vote, and Vashisht Narain Singh of the Janata Dal-United whose daughter is getting married and so he could not come to New Delhi.
Apart from that 3 Telugu Desam MPs including their leader in the Rajya Sabha did not turn up to vote. They are T Devender Goud who is the leader, Y S Chowdhary and G Sudha Rani. The remaining two TDP members voted with the Opposition in favour of the motion. There is speculation that the TDP may be heading for a split.
Interestingly, there has been the first sign of revolt from the Shiv Sena after the death of Bal Thackeray. Videcon Chairman Venugopal Dhoot, a Rajya Sabha MP from the Shiv Sena, cross-voted in favour of the government.
Similarly, Independent MP Rajiv Chandrashekhar, who is aligned to the NDA, also cross-voted in favour of the government. Like Dhoot he is also an industrialist.
Another industrialist MP Vijay Mallya, who represents the Janata Dal-Secular, also voted with the government. Perhaps he needs the government to bail him out and his Kingfisher Airlines. The JD-S, which had opposed the FDI in retail in the Lok Sabha, issued no whip for Mallya.
Janata Dal-United's Upender Kushwaha also cross-voted for the government. He is a dissident and is known to be anti-Nitish Kumar. JD-U President Sharad Yadav said the party will take action against Kushwaha.
Another significant vote was that of Amar Singh who came to the Rajya Sabha to vote for the government. He was expelled from the Samajwadi Party and is now an Independent MP like Jaya Prada, who was also expelled from the SP. She is in the Lok Sabha and is an Independent MP from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh.
Two seriously ill MPs, Janardhan Reddy of the Congress and Janardhan Waghmare of the Nationalist Congress Party, came to Parliament on stretchers and voted from the lobby and did not come into the House. The chair gave permission for this.
Out of the 10 nominated MPs 9 turned up including Bollywood actress Rekha. Rajiv Shukla escorted her and helped her sneak in from back door. The 10th was Sachin Tendulkar who did not turn up. It is learnt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself rang up the nominated MPs asking them to vote with the government against the motion moved by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's Maitreyan.
While a lot of the credit is being given to newly-appointed Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath for his politics of 'jugaad' and putting together the numbers, the actual fact, says sources within the Congress party, is that the prime minister, for whom a great deal is riding on the FDI issue and who pushed the agenda both within the government and the party, himself monitored the collection of numbers and is learnt to have played a key role in persuading the SP and the BSP to bail out the government. Sources say the PM used the "resources" at his command to ensure the vote did not falter and the resources include his influential friends from abroad.
The AIADMK has given a solemn assurance to the House that the next government (read a non-Congress government) would reverse the decision on FDI and there was no question of going back on this. Maitryan said, "(Commerce Minister) Anand Sharma has lost and Kamal Nath has won", meaning that in terms of FDI and its implementation most states are not opting for it and have rejected it while Kamal Nath has succeeded in putting together the numbers.
The FDI vote has opened the government to the charge that it is now a minority government and on every issue it would have to depend on either one or a number of regional formations to bail it out, and in the process it may have to pay a heavy price for the support it gets.