FDI debate in Lok Sabha: SP, BSP bail out UPA government

After a long and fiery debate and dramatic walkout by the BSP and SP, the government comfortably won the vote in the Lok Sabha on FDI in multi-brand retail.

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: After a long and fiery debate and dramatic walkout by the BSP and SP, the government on Wednesday comfortably won the vote in the Lok Sabha on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail that is seen as important step in its reform process.

The motion opposing the government`s decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail that would allow global supermarket chains to set up shop in India was moved by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the CPI-M. It was rejected convincingly as the Bahujan Samaj Party (21 members) and Samajwadi Party (22 members) walked out; 218 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.

Members of the rival Uttar Pradesh parties - SP and the BSP - did not participate in the voting, alleging that interests of farmers and small retailers had been ignored. The move, however, seems to be strategically designed to help the government sail through the challenges.

The Manmohan Singh-led government also won another motion on amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) to enable FDI in multi-brand retail. While 254 voted in favour of the government, 224 were against. The motion was moved by the Trinamool Congress.

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 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.

"We are very happy. We have the support of the House," said a beaming Communications Minister Kapil Sibal while lauding the country`s "vibrant democracy".

A defeated Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj slammed Mulayam Singh for walking out of the House and condemned the UPA`s "arrogance of power".

The SP, which had said earlier in the morning that it was against FDI but would not do anything to "trouble the government", said the move was "anti-farmer".

"Five crore (50 million) people in retail trade will be destroyed. This decision has ignored the interests of 20 crore (200 million) farmers and their families. The decision on FDI was taken under pressure of foreign companies. This is the reason the party boycotted it," Mulayam Singh had said.

"This is not about helping or harming the government. The whole party and MPs had decided to stage a walkout. This was decided by the party and the SP will continue to oppose every wrong decision of the government," he said

The debate is expected in the Rajya Sabha, upper House, on Thursday where the government does not have the numbers. The Rajya Sabha will vote on the issue on Friday.

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.

The decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail is expected to open the doors for major global names such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco.

(With Agency inputs)

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