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Will UPA government overcome the FDI storm?

Last updated on: December 7, 2011 00:08 IST

Will UPA overcome the FDI storm?

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

The UPA government hopes the logjam in Parliament over FDI in retail will end on Wednesday with the move to 'hold back' the Cabinet's decision on the issue. But things may not be that simple.

Sheela Bhatt reports on the possible scenarios that may emerge.

After Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee's strong opposition, the government has taken the ignominious step to suspend the Cabinet decision on Foreign Direct Investment in retail.

It has greatly eroded the authority of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The Congress party thinks after what all it has done to suspend the controversial issue, the Opposition parties should not disrupt Parliament and allow both Houses to function.

But the Opposition parties on Tuesday gave enough signals to the government that it is not only Mamata also who has a problem with FDI in retail -- Opposition leaders want to be told, officially, how the government plans to bury the decision on FDI taken by the Cabinet.

There is all round confusion in New Delhi. The government appears clueless. Mukherjee is searching for words to save Dr Singh and his prestige on the issue.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi
Photographs: Reuters

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FDI drama has revealed Mamata's real power

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A senior Cabinet minister told Rediff.com, "The UPA government may not agree to a rollback on the FDI issue, it can hold it back by not notifying the Cabinet's decision."

"Mamata Banerjee is satisfied with the government's stand to suspend the FDI decision. This signals that the government has been able to cajole the Trinamool to support the UPA in case the Opposition decides to reject the government's stand on FDI at the all party meeting on Wednesday. That may push them (the Opposition) to insist on an adjournment motion and even a vote, but the Trinamool signalled on Tuesday to the Congress that it will work with the UPA," the minister added.

Mamata has been told that till a "consensus" arrives on the FDI issue, no notification will be issued on the Cabinet decision taken on November 24.

Privately, Trinamool leaders say, "We will never arrive at a consensus."

The Trinamool Congress has gained enormously from the FDI controversy. The drama over FDI has revealed the Trinamool's hidden power in the current political set-up.

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Image: Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee addresses a rally in Kolkata
Photographs: Reuters

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Trinamool has shaken UPA's unity

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The Trinamool's 19 Lok Sabha members can now set the agenda within the UPA till the Uttar Pradesh election concludes next summer.

It also means that economic reforms will be back on the backburner if they do not suit Mamata's political agenda.

Until the UPA's composition changes with the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party changing its stand in New Delhi on the basis of the new political alliance in Lucknow post the assembly election, Mamata Banerjee will have her way in New Delhi.

Congress party managers say they never thought the Trinamool Congress would react so intensely. They had calculated that Mamata would fume and sulk, but she would not derail the UPA itself.

The West Bengal chief minister has completely shaken up the UPA's unity by taking a tough stand inside the Cabinet and then declaring that she would not support the UPA in Parliament if voting took place. Unless the FDI-in-retail decision was put on hold.

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Image: Mamata Banerjee with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi
Photographs: Reuters

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'Who can guarantee that Parliament will function tomorrow?'

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Congress leaders inside and outside the government argue that holding Parliament to ransom on every other issue is a dangerous precedent for democracy.

A senior source in the government said, "Just six members of a political party can stall the House of 542 members. Who can guarantee that the House will function tomorrow?"

Most ministers and senior Congress leaders have no clue about who will put pressure on the government and how they can escape this vicious circle.

A senior Nationalist Congress Party leader said, "The Opposition parties are capable of disrupting Parliament, if not on FDI, then it can be on black money, Telangana, reservation for Muslims within the OBC quota. If nothing else, they can raise the issue of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's alleged role in the mining scam in Karnataka."

Opposition leaders say they will take a decision on the FDI-in-retail issue only after listening to what Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee says at the all-party meeting on Wednesday.

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Image: India's Parliament
Photographs: Reuters

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Opposition wants to deny Mamata credit for the FDI rollback

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Bharatiya Janata Party leaders insist that "The government statement at the all-party meeting should convey the view of all the parties, and not just the Congress view or the UPA view."

On Monday, when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and said the government is ready to hold back the decision of FDI-in-retail, Swaraj insisted that Mukherjee's stand should reflect the 'Opposition's views' when he speaks about it in Parliament.

In other words, the BJP and the Left parties want to ensure that Mamata Banerjee does not walk away taking solo credit for making the government backtrack on the FDI issue.

As soon as Mukherjee spoke to Swaraj on Monday, BJP leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha told a television channel that his party wants a 'rollback' on FDI in retail and not a 'hold back.'

Congress leaders hope that since a "consensus" has been reached between Mamata Banerjee and their party leaders, the Opposition may not be able to stretch its antagonism to FDI too far.

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Image: Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj


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