Minister of Urban Development Kamal Nath (centre) talks to media after coming out of the parliament in New Delhi, yesterday.
New Delhi: The UPA government yesterday dealt a blow to the opposition by winning a Rajya Sabha vote on FDI in retail by 14 votes and declared that there was no stopping India’s reform process.
In contrast to speculation that the government may lose the vote in the upper house, the victory proved pretty easy as the Samajwadi Party (SP) trooped out — like in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday — while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) voted for foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail.
As a disappointed opposition claimed “moral victory” on the strength of the speeches made in the house over two days, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said after the vote: “Our reforms are on track.”
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, the main speaker for the government on the contentious issue, took on the opposition after it said the FDI did not have the support of most MPs even if the final vote went in favour of the treasury benches.
“We challenge them,” he said. “If we are a minority government, let them bring a no-confidence motion (against us).”
The opposition-backed motion against FDI in retail got 109 votes while the government managed 123. But officials said there was some confusion on the final voting figures although the government had won.
Minutes before the voting process began, all nine SP members walked out, bailing out the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — for the second time in three days.
On Thursday, day one of the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Mayawati took on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and declared triumphantly that 15 MPs of her BSP would vote with the UPA government.
Both the BSP and SP provide legislative support to the Congress-led government.
The government move to provide 51 percent foreign equity in multi-brand retail has long been a contentious issue, stalling almost the entire first two weeks of the winter session of parliament. With Friday’s vote, global names like Carrefour, Tesco and Wal-Mart can set up stores in India.
Earlier, addressing the house during the debate, Anand Sharma denied accusations that the FDI decision was a unilateral one and said the government had talked “to everyone, farmers, traders, consumers, states”.
Some sparks flew during the Rajya Sabha debate, with Sharma’s reference to Rajya Sabha member N K Singh kicking up a row and leading to an adjournment.
Sharma spoke about Singh having chaired a panel on FDI during the NDA rule. Singh was then principal secretary to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
After the parliament defeat, Communist leader D Raja accused the UP government of “brazenly” identifying itself “with multinationals and then claims it is with aam admi”. “The sense of the house is against FDI.”
The AIADMK gave a “solemn assurance” that the next central government would reverse the FDI decision.
AIADMK leader V Maitreyan, who moved the motion for the debate in the Rajya Sabha, said: “FDI will only be on paper and will not be implemented in states.”
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) announced a country-wide protest from Jan 1.
CAIT General Secretary Praveen Khandelwal said that the voting by certain parties in both houses of parliament was a result of “manipulative politics”.
Meanwhile, confusion gripped the government after the FDI in retail debate in the Rajya Sabha over the exact number of votes cast in favour and against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — prompting a reccount.
“Yes, we are going for the re-calculation,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said.
Soon after it was announced that the government had defeated the opposition-sponsored motion against foreign investment in multi-brand retail, it was discovered that due to “some technical glitches”, the total strength of the house had gone up to 248 instead of the present strength of 244.
The total strength of Rajya Sabha is 245 but with the death of former Maharashtra chief minister and union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, the number is reduced to 244.
As per the results declared by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari, the UPA government got 123 votes, while the opposition got 109 votes. Nine members of the Samajwadi Party walked out while seven members - Devender Goud T, Gundu Sudharani and Y S Chowdhary of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP); Janata Dal-United MP Bashistha Narain Singh, who was in Bihar; expelled Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Pyarimohan Mohapatra; Congress leader Murli Deora, who has undergone an operation and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who is playing in the test series against Engand — were absent.
The total of these votes would be 248 which is four more than the present strength of the house.
But the confusion started in the calculations, according to Rajya Sabha secretariat, due to votes being cast three times — twice electronically and once on paper ballots. The third ballot was necessitated after at least two members — Ram Jethmalani and Najma Heptullah — complained their votes had not been registered.