New Delhi: The debate on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail began in Parliament on Tuesday with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Opposition attacking each other. The Opposition attack was led by Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, while the defence of the government was presented by Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.
The highlight of the speech of Sushma Swaraj was when she tried to reach out to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which provide outside support to the UPA. She even assured them that the government would not fall if they vote against FDI in retail in the House.
Later, defending the government on the move, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal picked holes in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader's arguments, seeking an answer on why the BJP, which had supported the FDI in 2004, has changed its stand now.
The debate started in the Lok Sabha with the Leader of Opposition thanking Speaker Meira Kumar allowing a debate on FDI in retail under rule 184 that entails voting. Sushma said that the government had gone back on its promise for a consensus on FDI in retail. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, she said President Pranab Mukherjee, the then Finance Minister, had promised a discussion on FDI.
"Unlike the promise made on the floor of the House, the government did not even attempt to bring consensus on FDI in retail. No political party was contacted before taking a decision," Sushma said.
She further said that the consumer would lose if there's FDI in retail as the market would shrink to a few players. "Competition is in the interest of consumers, monopoly is not," said Swaraj.
Swaraj said that big retailers pay farmers less. "They pay farmers less, employees less, but keep high profits. All over the world, large supermarkets do this," Sushma said.
She also said that even McDonald's does not take potatoes from Indian farmers. "Government should ask McDonald's where does it source potatoes for its fries from. McDonald's never buys potatoes from local Indian farmers, they say the size of potatoes is very small here," Sushma Swaraj said.
There was an uproar in the Lok Sabha after BJP leader Sushma Swaraj spoke about sugarcane farmers during the FDI debate. Sushma Swaraj said, "Government talks of reducing the role of middlemen. In the sugar industry, there are no middlemen involved. Sugarcane farmers are suffering, no one is paying them, slips are given to them, we know the politics of sugarcane."
Talking of employment opportunities cited by the government while bringing FDI in retail, Swaraj claimed the government got its facts wrong. "Government claims FDI will give more jobs, will give direct employment to 40 lakh people. According to the Walmart data we have, a Walmart store has a maximum of 214 employees per store. The data given by the government is questionable," Sushma said.
She cited the example of other countries trying to promote small-scale shops. "While cities will shine due to malls, closure of small-scale Indian industries will bring darkness. 84 per cent of local jobs were lost in Iowa when Walmart came there," Sushma said. She said that even US President Barack Obama encourages small-scale shops.
Referring to Prime Minister Manmohan's Singh comment 'If we have to go down, we'll go down fighting', BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, "Fight for the poor and not for the rich Mr Prime Minister. Fight for the Indian business, not MNCs."
Later, dismissing the arguments of the Leader of Opposition, Union Minister Kapil Sibal said that several states wanted FDI in retail, accusing the Opposition of leveling baseless allegations that the move was a sell out. He further pointed that only 53 cities in India qualified for FDI in retail.
"My question is if the chief ministers and the people of a state want to implement FDI in their state then how can you (Opposition) stop them from implementation?" said Sibal. "If any state doesn't want to implement, then don't implement FDI. All these talks of Opposition are exaggerated," he said.
Pointing that the FDI would first be implemented in just 18 cities, the Union Minister said, "It will be foolish to say that implementing FDI in retail in 18 cities will put the small retailers in trouble."
Hitting out at the Opposition, Sibal accused them of "double standard", saying the BJP had promised organised retail trade on the international pattern. He further said, "NDA minister Murasoli Maran advocated FDI in retail in 2002 in a note for GoM. Many said KFC will drive the dhabas out of the market. Dhabas have driven out KFC. Don't underestimate Indian brand."
The Union Minister also quoted a statement of Left leader Sitaram Yechury published in 2004 wherein he had supported FDI in retail as well as wholesale.
Following the war of words between the government and the Opposition, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav took the centrestage as he advised the government to drop the decision of FDI in retail, and call an all-party meeting to discuss the issue again.
He said that the FDI was not in favour of the country and would not create jobs, adding that it would not even let Congress win the elections. The Samajwadi Party chief said, "Small traders will not be able to compete with the big retailers. This will lead to unemployment," adding, "With Lok Sabha elections near, FDI in retail sector might not be politically correct for the Congress."
However, though UPA constituent DMK said that it was opposed to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, it maintained that it would not vote against the government in Parliament. "We do not want to let you down, we do not want to join the Opposition...we do not want to join the BJP," the DMK told the government in Lok Sabha.
Meanwhile, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also opposed the government's move, but remained ambivalent on its stand on voting on Wednesday.
Here's what the numbers say in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha:
Total strength of the Lok Sabha is 544 and the half way mark is 272
UPA (254) = Congress (206) + DMK (18) + NCP (9) + Others (21)
Outside support for UPA (50) = Samajwadi Party (22) + BSP (21) + RJD (4) + JDS (3)
Opposition (240) = NDA (152) + Left (24) + Trinamool Congress (19) + Others (45)
For FDI (261) = UPA (254) + RJD (4) + JDS (3)
Against FDI (195) = NDA (152) + Left (24) + Trinamool Congress (19)
Likely to abstain (43) = SP (22) + BSP (21)
Because of abstention, the total strength will be reduced to 501 and half way will go down to 251.
In Rajya Sabha, the House strength is 244 and half way mark is 122.
UPA (90) = Congress (70) + DMK (7) + NCP (7) + Others (6)
Support (26) = BSP (15) + SP (9) + RJD (2)
Opposition (118) = NDA (66) + Left (14) + Trinamool Congress (9) + Othrs (29)
Nominated = 10
For FDI (102) = UPA (91) + RJD (2) + Nominated (9)
As per the numbers, the UPA is short of 20.
Against FDI (101) = NDA (66) + Left (14) + Trinamool Congress (9) + ADMK (7) + BJD (5)
As per the numbers, the Opposition is short of 21.
Outside Support for UPA (24) = BSP (15) + SP (9)
Now, if this group votes for FDI the number with UPA increases to 126, and if they vote against FDI, the numbers in opposition move up to 125. However, if this group abstains, the House strength reduces to 220 and half way mark becomes 110, of which 102 are for FDI while 101 are against it. Therefore, what is most crucial for the UPA in Rajya Sabha is getting the support of the parties that are undecided as of now.