Slamming the government for allowing FDI in retail, the opposition on Tuesday asked it to withdraw the decision in national interest fearing it would render retailers jobless, impoverish farmers and hurt consumers.
Initiating the debate on the issue, leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj contended that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha in 2002, had opposed FDI in retail and questioned as to what has changed that the government is so determined to implement it.
In her nearly 90-minute speech, punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Swaraj maintained that the concept of large supermarkets has failed in Western economies and wondered how the government was claiming it would create jobs in India.
She asserted that the Bharatiya Janata Party was not opposed to FDI per se and as leader of the opposition she was willing to travel with the prime minister across the world to invite investments in other sectors such as infrastructure.
Singh was present when she spoke. Appealing to parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to support the motion moved by her and Khagen Das (Communist party of India-Marxist) against 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, Swaraj said any defeat during vote will not bring down the government but will force it to rollback the decision on FDI.
"Your fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded," she said turning to members of the SP and the BSP, which have so far maintained ambiguity over their stand on voting.
Pressing for rollback of the 'disastrous' FDI decision, she told the government 'hum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte (We don't want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you)," she said.
Swaraj said the decision to allow FDI in retail was not a step towards development but a leap into a ditch of 'destruction'.
Referring to statements made by the government that FDI in retail would empower consumers, she said large superstores will wipe out small retailers by first dropping prices and then charging higher prices once there is no competition.
Swaraj also said claims that farmers will benefit from the move was 'baseless' as the experience of the European Union shows that farmers are forced to sell their produce below production cost to large retail chains.
"A fool learns from his own experience, while a wise man learns from the experience of others," she said. She claimed that the most likely scenario would be that retail chains would not buy products from small and medium farmers at all and supported her contention by giving the example of Pepsi in Punjab which rejected locally produced potatoes and tomatoes as being below standards.
She said even McDonalds was importing potatoes from abroad and not buying the produce locally.
"You are from the state which produces apples...a local whole-seller would take out a damaged apple and sell the consignment. But the bigger chains will reject the entire consignment. When people will come to your doorsteps with their grievances, you won't be able to help them," Swaraj told Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.
The BJP leader said even United States President Barack Obama is supporting the 'small business Saturday' campaign by going to small shops to support their business.