Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail on Wednesday got the approval of the Lok Sabha as the Opposition motion seeking immediate withdrawal of the decision was rejected convincingly as the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party walked out.
218 members voted in favour of the Opposition motion, while 253 voted against it in the House where 471 members participated in the voting. The total strength of the House is 545.
The House also rejected the motion seeking amendment to the rules notified by the Reserve Bank under Foreign Exchange Management Act to enable FDI in multi-brand retail.
While 254 voted in favour of the government, 224 were against.
Members of SP and BSP, with respective strength of 22 and 21, did not participate in the voting as they walked out alleging that interests of farmers and small retailers had been ignored.
The victory of the government after two days of heated debate was immediately hailed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
"FDI policy that we have put in place has the approval of this House (Lok Sabha)," said Dr Singh, who is a member of Rajya Sabha but was present during the voting in the Lower House.
This was after a gap of many years that an executive decision of the government was put to vote in Parliament.
Earlier, replying to the discussion, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma dismissed the Opposition charge that the move would hurt small traders and farmers and that the government has rushed the decision.
He said the decision was not taken overnight and deliberations were held with chief ministers and other stake holders like association of farmers, consumer organisations and representatives of the food processing industry.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, who had moved the motion, maintained that majority of the House was against FDI in retail which was reflected in speeches of leaders of different political parties.
Swaraj said going by speeches in the debate on FDI, leaders of various parties which extended support in favour of the motion and against bringing FDI in multi-brand retail had 282 votes and those against it had 224 votes.
She said 22 leaders of 18 parties participated in the debate on FDI in multi-brand retail of which 14 spoke in its favour.
"I wanted the thought to be converted into vote that will be engraved in the history of Lok Sabha," Swaraj said, lamenting that this did not seem happening as some parties like SP and BSP which vehemently opposed the entry of FDI in retail had already walked out to avoid voting on the issue.
While seeking to reach out to wider opposition camp, she said it was not a vote on communal or secular lines but about the interest of the country.
After the voting, she told reporters that the government "won technically but lost on moral grounds."
The Commerce Minister said out of 21 states which responded to the Centre's communication on the issue, 11 supported in writing the move to open multi-brand retail.
Only 7 states opposed the proposal, while few sought clarifications, he said, adding that he personally met Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
In the backdrop of the federal structure of the country, he said, the Centre decided to leave the final decision on states whether to allow foreign investment in retail.
"No one can take away the right of an elected government to take decision", he said adding the decision was taken after discussions with the stakeholders.
"Consensus means general agreement and not unanimity," he said.
Participating in the debate, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said his party was for "retail democracy and not retail dictatorship" and warned that people would not tolerate such an action.
Noting that retail giant Walmart had indulged in corrupt practices in several countries, Joshi said the government need not promote their interest but work in the interest of farmers and workers.
He rejected government's contention that foreign investment in retail would benefit farmers and increase competition.
He told the UPA, "Apni gardan aap katwayen, magar desh ki gardan mat katwayen" (if you want to sacrifice your head for the sake of FDI in retail, please do, but do not sacrifice the interest of the nation for it).
Deepender Hooda (Cong) sought to embarrass BJP by referring to Purti Group, a company run by BJP President Nitin Gadkari, and said it was into multi-brand retail in a big way. In this context, he questioned why BJP was opposing this government decision.
Hooda, son of Haryana Chief Minister, said he wanted to assure foreign companies like McDonald's and Pepsico and if they were not getting respect in BJP-ruled Gujarat, they could come to Haryana.
He quoted the letter of Sukhbir Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, to Anand Sharma in 2011 that supported FDI in multi-brand retail.
He also read out from the letter written by the Akali Dal leader who is now opposing the proposal.
Warning of more agitations against FDI in retail, senior CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia said while the Left has been consistent in opposing the move, the government has been "inconsistent throughout".
"The Prime Minister, as the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha earlier, had written a letter opposing it. Congress leader P R Dasmunsi had termed it 'anti-national' in this very House. We have been consistent, you are not," he said.
Praful Patel said while BJP was opposing FDI in multi-brand retail, the NDA government led by it had furthered the liberalisation policy initiated by the Congress government in the 1990s.
He said claims that FDI would result in an "earthquake" were unfounded and urged opposition against creating a sense of fear among people.
He claimed that due to presence of foreign chains like McDonald and KFC, Indian chains like Bikanerwala and Haldiram have improved their retail infrastructure.
Bhratruhari Mahtab (BJD) said his party had opposed the move in 2004, in last December and even today. "It will not help our agriculture and we have apprehensions that it will give rise to social unrest," he said.
He rejected government's argument that FDI in retail would create jobs and bring in additional resources.
Strongly opposing FDI in multi-brand retail, senior CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said there is pressure from multi-nationals and the Prime Minister is even ready to sacrifice the government to implement the proposal.
Dasgupta said allowing FDI in multi-brand retail would result in a scenario of "giants (MNCs) versus pygmies (domestic retailers)" and there cannot be growth.
Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) too opposed the move and said the government, by allowing it, was inviting the East India Company.