CPM leader Sitaram Yechury has said that the vote on FDI in Parliament revealed the hypocrisy of political parties BSP, SP and the DMK.
Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Yechury insisted that the vote revealed the instability in Indian politics and shattered investor confidence.
Below is the transcript of the interview.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to the Devil's Advocate. Did the government outsmart the opposition over FDI in retail? That is the key issue I will discuss today with CPM Rajya Sabha and senior politburo member leader Sitaram Yechury. Mr Yechury, let me start with the obvious question. FDI in retail was supposed to the government's gamechanger, it's become a debacle for the opposition. Are you embarrassed by the outcome?
Sitaram Yechury: Not at all. I am not embarrassed at all. Because you are right. It is a technical victory for the government, in terms of vote in both the Houses.
Karan Thapar: The vote is the only thing that counts in a democracy, so why say technical?
Sitaram Yechury: I will tell you why. That's because all the parties who spoke against this policy decision, if their number were to be added, then the government has lost in both the Houses.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact, and I want to quote the leader of the opposition from your House, Arun Jaitley. This is what he wrote in the Indian Express on the 27th of November, "Voting is the essence of democracy. Democracy is the game of numbers." And then he added, "They have to be voted on in order to determine the sovereign will of issues." That is what happened. The sovereign will was the vote, not what was spoken.
Sitaram Yechury: I agree. The vote is in the final analysis the decisive element. Now the question is how honest are you with yourself? Having said that they are not accepting the government's explanations on this, you have a nine member party walk out of the House. You have a 50-member party vote for the government.
Karan Thapar: So you are accusing the BSP and the SP of hypocrisy?
Sitaram Yechury: And also the DMK.
Karan Thapar: They may be hypocrites but they voted knowing that the way they vote would give the government a majority and secondly, that Parliament had endorsed FDI. Can you deny that Parliament has endorsed FDI in retail?
Sitaram Yechury: No, it is a fact that Parliament has endorsed FDI in retail. But, the point is that all these parties had placed the question of the government winning the vote higher than the merit of the policy.
Karan Thapar: Which is their prerogative right too.
Sitaram Yechury: It is. It is their prerogative.
Karan Thapar: And you could have taken that in account but you didn't.
Sitaram Yechury: No we didn't.
Karan Thapar: No you didn't. Because you called for a debate with a vote believing that you would win. The government was reluctant because they thought that probably you would win. But in the end, the government won. Now you got your mathematical calculations wrong.
Sitaram Yechury: No it's not mathematical calculations. It's political calculation finally. It's not mathematics alone. If the BSP and the SP had abstained from the Rajya Sabha like they abstained in the Lok Sabha, it would have been very difficult for the government.
Karan Thapar: Not very difficult. At the end of the day, the government won 123 to a 102, a margin of 21, it's quite possible that abstention by both would still have given the government a victory.
Sitaram Yechury: They are 24. Both of them together add up to 24 in the Rajya Sabha.
Karan Thapar: All you needed at the end of the day was for one or two people to be absent at the end of the day and there were enough of those. So you know and I know, that the government didn't just skate through, it won convincingly.
Sitaram Yechury: No, no. I won't say convincingly. Because a seven-member DMK, nine-member SP, 15-member BSP, together add up to 31. If these 31 were honest to themselves, I am not saying anything further, just honest to themselves, then the government would have lost.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. You keep accusing the SP and the BSP of dishonesty, of hypocrisy, that they weren't honest to themselves. But the truth of the matter is that everyone was predicting, that they would either abstain or even possibly vote with the government. And this is something you could have taken into account when you demanded a debate with the vote, but you didn't. The fault is yours.
Sitaram Yechury: As far as the Left is concerned, I don't know about the others who voted for us, as far as Left is concerned, we still would have demanded voting to register our protest on what we think is not in the country's interest. It was not just an issue of willing. It was also an issue of in a democracy where you stand on a certain issue.
Karan Thapar: What did you achieve by registering where you stand, because in the end, you forced to vote, the vote went to the government's favour and now as you readily accept, Parliament has endorsed FDI in retail. Secondly, the government has the mandate to pursue the policy. Earlier there were question marks. Now they are gone and you have helped the government.
Sitaram Yechury: No, on the contrary. Because question marks are going to be raised not only in this session, but also in the next session. There are various levels of law making that you will have to go through.
Karan Thapar: Let me come to those questions in a moment's time. First I put to you what was said to me on Friday by your colleague in CPI Gurudas Dasgupta. He is the CPI leader in the Lok Sabha. He said the government has put together a majority on the basis of material allurements. Those were his exact words. That amounts to a bribe. Do you believe that or not?
Sitaram Yechury: I don't know whether it's a bribe, but something extra has happened. Either a threat, or intimidation, or bribe, or a promise of doing something.
Karan Thapar: You are not ruling out the possibility that the government bribed its way to majority?
Sitaram Yechury: No, I am not ruling out because of my experience. 1993, when Narasimha Rao won the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha, came the JMM bribery case. 2008, when Manmohan Singh won the vote on Indo-US nuclear deal, came the cash-for-vote which the whole world saw.
Karan Thapar: You are saying that the past suggests that there was some "hanky panky" this time?
Sitaram Yechury: Yes, definitely.
Karan Thapar: But you have actually acknowledged to me that you don't rule out a bribe.
Sitaram Yechury: I am not ruling out anything. But there is definitely something, to use your words, hanky panky.
Karan Thapar: People are going to turn around and say this is nothing but the sign of a bad loser. You challenged the government, they defeated, you didn't think they would, now you are alleging bribery. Is there no other explanation for your defeat?
Sitaram Yechury: I have the explanation. I go by my explanation of JMM bribery case, the cash-for-vote scam, and I am sure all of you would be doing something or the other by next week when something or the other is exposed.
Karan Thapar: Let's keep that aside for a while. Some would say this is nothing but spiteful bad allegation.
Sitaram Yechury: No it's not spiteful bad. We accept the defeat with grace.
Karan Thapar: No you're not showing much grace at the moment.
Sitaram Yechury: I am.
Karan Thapar: No you're not. You're accusing the BSP and the SP of hypocrisy, you are refusing to take responsibility of the fact that you could have taken that way and that you did your maths wrong, and now you're alleging bribery.
Sitaram Yechury: Am I wrong in suggesting double league when a leader of DMK gets up in Rajya Sabha and says FDI is Foreign Direct 'Invasion'. And then he goes on to vote with the government.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that they had announced it earlier that they would do precisely that. And that is what I am saying, that these are factors you could have borne in mind when you challenged the government and demand for a vote. You gambled, you got it wrong, and now you are not showing grace in accepting defeat.
Sitaram Yechury: Your premise is wrong in the sense that getting and asking for a vote is not only to win. Getting and asking for a vote is also to register your position.
Karan Thapar: The problem with registering your position is that now you gave the government a majority, Parliament has endorsed a policy which earlier it hadn't and the questions that were raised earlier have disappeared, and that the government is on the stronger ground. FDI is confirmed.
Sitaram Yechury: No the questions have not disappeared, number one. And secondly, and without this vote, what would have stopped the government?
Karan Thapar: Previously, when the government did not have full fledged, undisputed Parliament backing, there were question marks in the minds of investors, there were question marks in the minds of politicians, within the government itself in the ruling party. All of those have disappeared. The investors are assured. Congress has a majority. They can go full steam ahead.
Sitaram Yechury: Confidence of the investors has in fact fallen, its fallen because they also know that in this country, how these votes are managed. And they know how precarious and fragile this whole situation is.
Karan Thapar: At the end of the day, the government won in the Lok Sabha 253 by 218, it won a 123 by a 102 in the Rajya Sabha, and those are convincing margins of victory.
Sitaram Yechury: Again, as I tell you, the fragility lies in the fact these margins crucially depend upon the behaviour of two parties, the SP and the BSP. Now that is where the investor confidence has fallen, not risen.
Karan Thapar: That's just one point and its debatable. Its one being made only by you. It's not being made by the Sensex, it is not being made by themselves. So let us leave that aside.
Sitaram Yechury: Sensex doesn't react only to one issue. There are global reasons for the Sensex.
Karan Thapar: Let us come to something you said a moment ago, which I didn't take up then, but which I want to take up now. You said that at the end of the day, the FDI is still not through, because there are still votes to be held on the FEMA rule changes. I want to talk about that. You attempted to challenge the FEMA rule changes in the Lok Sabha, you lost. Technically, you can still do that, provided you don't propose the same changes the second time. But will you?
Sitaram Yechury: Number one, we didn't lose because we didn't move these changes before the vote deliberately.
Karan Thapar: The ones that were moved have been defeated. Do you have different amendments?
Sitaram Yechury: Yes, we have. We have different amendments and the act gives us the right to move for the annulment also. Not only amendments of the amendments, but also annulments of the amendments.
Karan Thapar: So are you saying to me today that the CPM will move both amendments to the amendments as well as an annulment to the amendments in the Lok Sabha?
Sitaram Yechury: And Rajya Sabha.
Karan Thapar: In both Houses?
Sitaram Yechury: Yes.
Karan Thapar: But given the fact that when in the first time around when these amendments were moved about Saugata Roy and the TMC, they were defeated. Chances are that when you move them, you too will be defeated. What will you achieve?
Sitaram Yechury: Some parties will be happy that we are moving it again. So that they can shine.
Karan Thapar: Are you suggesting that this is the possibility of bribery?
Sitaram Yechury: And now the government will be hard pressed to go on managing and conserve their majority.
Karan Thapar: Just a moment, this is something very interesting. No longer are you moving amendments in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha against the FEMA changes because you believe you can defeat the FEMA changes. Now you are doing it for two different reasons. A) You want to embarrass the parties that support the government, and secondly you are doing it because you are wondering whether the government has got the money to carry on bribing.
Sitaram Yechury: No, no. The more important reason why we are doing it is that we are hoping that these parties now realise that their reputation amongst the people is also under question mark.
Karan Thapar: This sounds like triumph of hope against experience.
Sitaram Yechury: Well it's not the second marriage we are talking about.
Karan Thapar: But this is just waste of time. You are wasting Parliament's time.
Sitaram Yechury: No, no. Not at all.
Karan Thapar: You are stringing out a process. You are in technical means to do so, you know you have not got a chance of success, you are wasting everyone's time.
Sitaram Yechury: Lawmaking is a very thorough process. It's not a debate on television. You have to make the law with absolute attention that is required.
Karan Thapar: The truth is of the matter is Mr Yechury that when you move these amendments be it in Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, you will have the same majority against you as you did in the debate.
Sitaram Yechury: Why are you presuming that all these amendments will be defeated? May be some sense will dawn that these amendments need to be made.
Karan Thapar: The BSP and the SP, who are as aware how important these amendments are, will vote differently.
Sitaram Yechury: They may agree to certain amendments which give us certain degree of protection.
Karan Thapar: Many people would say that you need to accept the defeat you have faced with grace, that you've suffered defeat, that FDI is reality, and go and fight on some other issue. Don't keep pursuing this. You have lost.
Sitaram Yechury: No, a law is not just in the letter it is in the spirit as well. If a law is being amended it has to be seen in all its dimensions. And some of these amendments are very crucial in order to give a certain degree of protection, which doesn't exist right now.
Karan Thapar: You are doing two things only: You are trying to harass the government to the last possible moment and secondly you are clinging to every last vestige of hope that somehow you can win. You are not being realistic.
Sitaram Yechury: I don't know why you are not able to understand a simple fact. The fact of the matter is that a law, with all its nuances, will have to be properly examined and every amendment of this nature, which cannot reverse the decision of Parliament but can definitely strengthen this law in interest of India.
Karan Thapar: You know what else your party has said? Both you and Prakash Karat have publicly said that you are also going to take the fight against FDI to the streets, given that Parliament has endorsed it, given that you yourself have accepted that Parliament has endorsed it. That's a defiance of Parliament.
Sitaram Yechury: No. We took the fight on POTA when Parliament endorsed it to the streets. We took the fight when the government changed and it was reversed. So the right to take it to the people and to mount the pressure of the reversal of a wrong decision is a legitimate political right in a polity, in a parliamentary democracy which I think political parties must exercise.
Karan Thapar: Mr Yechury let's broaden our discussion, to what extent was opposition's unity and determination to defeat FDI in retail vitiated by a political apprehension that it would be a liability to be seen at the same side as the BJP?
Sitaram Yechury: I think this was not an issue at all. It was an excuse, it was a cover. Because the parties that view this as an excuse have all done business with the BJP in the past.
Karan Thapar: So when Mayawati and the Samajwadi Party both made these points, once again you are saying they are being hypocritical?
Sitaram Yechury: Absolutely. And the DMK served for full five years under Mr Vajpayee. This was only the cover to take the position that they are taking that is why this vote is the technical whodunit.
Karan Thapar: But that a cover that they have adopted in the past, it is a cover you could have easily assumed and worked out yourself that they would adopt again but you didn't. Would you not have been better off had you supported Mamata Banerjee's no-confidence vote? Because on that issue, it is quite possible that the Samjawadi Party would have voted against the government, because they want an election. They would do well with an early election.
Sitaram Yechury: A no-confidence motion had lesser chances of no support primarily because no-confidence is not an issue based motion. It is a motion saying that there is no motion in this government and there are many, not only in the SP and the BSP, but many in most of the parties who do not want an early election. Therefore, the no-confidence motion was a way out for the government, an escape route. And that is exactly what Trinamool did also with the amendment.
Karan Thapar: In other words, you had an option of a no-confidence motion which you view as an escape out for the government and of debate with a vote on FDI in retail, where you failed to calculate how the parties would vote. You were in between the devil and the deep blue sea and you were unable to choose.
Sitaram Yechury: I disagree. We did not fail to calculate at all.
Karan Thapar: Now with striking success in FDI in retail, many people say that other economic reforms stuck in Parliament particularly pension and banking would easily go through.
Sitaram Yechury: No, but again they would have to go through whatever they had to go through for this vote.
Karan Thapar: Quite right. But now with the BSP and the SP now aligned with them, some more strongly than the other, why do you doubt that they will go with the government with pension, banking and insurance, all three.
Sitaram Yechury: Because each vote is a bargaining chip.
Karan Thapar: So, to use your terminology, the BSP and the SP have three more opportunities to make money, not to mention, how many opportunities you are going to give them if you keep on insisting to change rules, and the government has got the money to pay. So, even in your some would say cynical terms, the government will get its legislations through. They pay the cash, they will get the votes, and you are the loser.
Sitaram Yechury: First of all, I am not saying that the only way they will get the votes is through cash.
Karan Thapar: You came pretty close to it.
Sitaram Yechury: No, no. And number two, when the BJP toyed with the idea of FDI in retail, we opposed them. Mr Manmohan Singh, leader of the opposition then, supported us.
Karan Thapar: But FDI in retail is a closed chapter now. It's done.
Sitaram Yechury: But that is true for all other economic policy measures which we think are not in the interests of the country.
Karan Thapar: Except for now that there are so many now which can get through with BSP and SP in support. You are opposed to banking reform, pension reform, insurance reform. You don't particularly like the cash transfers and anyway the bill that has to legitimise them still has to go through the Parliament. You also have doubts about the way the government is handling land acquisitions. All of that now could get through with BSP and SP support and you have made it possible for the government in a way.
Sitaram Yechury: How have we made it possible?
Karan Thapar: By challenging the government, by making the government lean on them, and the challenge of FDI has created a new relationship.
Sitaram Yechury: Are you trying to suggest that since anyway they will manage their support so what is the point in challenging? That is wrong. In a democracy, I will challenge and insist on the issue which I think is not in the interest of the country and its people.
Karan Thapar: And the corollaries each time to you challenge will further strengthen the bond between these two and the government. Today, as a result of the FDI in retail debate and your loss in it, the government has a new lease of life. No longer the people say that this government will stumble. No longer do they say we will have early elections. That is the second sense in which you have lost out.
Sitaram Yechury: No, no. Any government of the day, we will want it to be stable and functioning. We may oppose its policies.
Karan Thapar: But it is stronger now as a result of your challenge and your loss.
Sitaram Yechury: An unstable government is not in the interest of India.
Karan Thapar: Do you have any regrets about the way you handled FDI in retail?
Sitaram Yechury: No, not at all. None.
Karan Thapar: None, whatsoever? You have made the government stronger, you have made the opposition weaker and you have isolated the Left.
Sitaram Yechury: How is the Left isolated? In fact, senior leaders are now calling the BJP the B-team of the Left. The Congress was the B-team of the Left when the BJP was in power.
Karan Thapar: So you are saying that the CPM has found a new lease of life?
Sitaram Yechury: Absolutely, you see when the BJP was in power, the Congress was the B-team of the Left. When Congress is in power, the BJP is the B-team of the Left.
Karan Thapar: You remind me of that wonderful phrase in the English language and I will say it without wanting to give you any offence, "if you are living in a fool's paradise, enjoy it while it lasts".
Sitaram Yechury: Well if everybody is a fool, then it is a paradise we all live in.