New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Wednesday defeated the motions by the opposition parties in the Lok Sabha over foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. In fact, it was quite a comfortable win for the UPA as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) walked out before the vote in the House. The walkouts brought the effective strength of the House down to 471 and the halfway strength came down to 236. Defeating the motions comfortably, the UPA got 253 votes in its favour, as there were 218 votes against the government.
The motion seeking cancellation of FEMA modifications moved by Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy was also defeated in the Lok Sabha. While there were 224 votes in favour of the motion, the government managed to negate it with 254 votes.
Expressing happiness over the win in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "FDI policy has the approval of the House." Reacting to the win, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also expressed her happiness saying she was not worried about the numbers in Rajya Sabha.
However, the defeat did not seem to go down well with the opposition parties, as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties accused the government of misusing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to ensure a win in the House on the issue.
Senior Left leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, "The UPA has moved criminal method, by deliberately using the CBI and using parties to stage a walkout."
Terming it as a win of the CBI, veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said, "The CBI has won...we wanted to make a point that they are anti-farmers and we made it." He further said, "We got maximum support...two parties walked off."
The Trinamool Congress also used the opportunity to level allegations on the government, but stopped short of naming the CBI. Trinamool Congress leader Vivek Gupta said, "They must have arranged something...there was no reason given for the walkouts by the SP and the BSP."
The UPA, however, dismissed all the allegations calling them baseless. Union Oil Minister Veerappa Moily lashed out at the opposition parties, saying, "These are baseless allegations that we used the CBI...they are against the institution of Parliament. The TMC and the Left voted with communal forces."
Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid also attacked the opposition parties calling them "bad losers". The government further called it a victory of reforms. Union Minister Manish Tewari said, "This is the victory of reforms...this ensures that the Indian economy is strengthened."
The main opposition party, the BJP, however, continued its offensive even outside Parliament. Speaking to mediapersons after the voting, Leader of Opposition in the House, Sushma Swaraj, said, "After the voting on FDI, it is clear that the UPA government is in a minority."
The BJP leader also hit out at the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, accusing them of double standards. She pointed that during the debate, both the parties spoke against the FDI, but abstained from voting to give benefit to the government.
"If the BSP and the Samajwadi Party were against FDI in retail, they should have voted against the government and not abstained from voting in Lok Sabha," said the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha.
Veteran BJP leader and former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha also claimed that the government was in a minority. He said, "This has been proved that the government does not have a majority in the House," adding, "our strategy will be the same in the Rajya Sabha...we will try to defeat the government in Rajya Sabha."
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convener Sharad Yadav also said that the opposition tried to prove its point in the Lok Sabha and claimed that it had been successful in doing that.
Hours later, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who had walked out of the UPA government over recent economic reforms, posted a message on Facebook, saying, "It is a shame. The mandate today proves that the UPA-II is a minority government. As against the majority figure of 271, based on the total strength of the House, the support was only 253, despite all attempts made by the selfish people. This Government has lost its credibility. They must take fresh verdict from the people."
The 22 MPs of the Samajwadi Party and the 21 MPs of the Bahujan Samaj Party walked out of Lok Sabha ahead of the crucial FDI vote in Parliament. Sources said that BSP supremo Mayawati was reportedly unhappy as Commerce Minister Anand Sharma did not address their concerns over FDI during his speech.
Speaking to reporters, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said, "We have boycotted this debate. It was decided by the party. This was the best decision the SP could come up with. FDI is anti-farmer."
Earlier on Wednesday, replying to the debate on FDI in retail in the Lok Sabha, Commerce and Industries Minister Anand Sharma said that the decision was not taken by the government overnight. Pointing that FDI had been a topic of discussion for years in the country, Sharma said that lack of infrastructure and cold storage in the country was leading to excessive wastage. He added that "as an agrarian economy, we have to ensure minimum wastage."
"Farmers suffer due to lack of food management in the country...farm product losses are seen at 35-40 per cent," said Anand Sharma. He further said that the decision on FDI in retail had been taken by the government after consulting all stakeholders, adding, "Farm produce worth Rs 65,000 crore is wasted per year".
Targeting the Opposition, Sharma pointed that three BJP-ruled states - Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab - never opposed the move of the government in writing. He further said that 11 Chief Ministers had backed the proposal, adding that the government had consulted 12 farmer unions and 17 biggest consumer bodies in the country over the issue.
The Minister further said that the government respected federalism and was not forcing FDI in retail on states.
Another major highlight of the debate in the Lok Sabha over the issue was the speech of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad. Extending the support of his party to the UPA government, Lalu in his inimitable style launched a scathing attack on the opposition.
Arguing for FDI in the House, the former Bihar chief minister targeted senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj in the House questioning their opposition to the issue of FDI.
He pointed that the BJP itself wanted FDI in 2002, saying, "There is no compulsion on FDI, everyone is free to choose what to buy and from where to buy...there is no compulsion on the states to embrace FDI."
The RJD chief questioned the knowledge of senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi about the farmers in the country. He said, "Do you know how paddy is cultivated?" Lalu also targeted Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, saying, "While she is opposing FDI in retail, she is fond of Nescafe."
The former Bihar chief minister went on to attack Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the issue, pointing that the BJP leader was inviting companies from Japan to invest in his state. Praising the government for bringing in FDI, the RJD chief said, "Today the entire country can see how determined the Prime Minister is to bring in economic reforms."
Meanwhile, there were a few absentees during the voting in the Lok Sabha as well. Those absent during the vote included Babulal Marandi of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), two MPs of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman and Asad Owaisi of MIM. JVM MP Dr Ajay Kumar, however, voted against the government.