Yet another infructuous parliament session?

Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:41pm IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C) arrives at the parliament on the opening day of the winter session in New Delhi November 22, 2012. REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (C) arrives at the parliament on the opening day of the winter session in New Delhi November 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur

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(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

By D H Pai Panandiker

The last session of parliament was a washout. The present one looks to be no different going by its chaotic start. The government had announced a number of policy reforms in the intervening period between the two sessions. To resume reforms and pull the sagging economy up, the government had opened domestic retail business to foreign multi-brand supermarkets and also expressed its commitment to foreign investment in airlines, insurance and pension funds.

That was good economics and would bring the economy back to high speed growth so necessary to generate employment and increase incomes. But good economics is not always good politics. Mamata Banerjee-led TMC walked out of the UPA and even sought to introduce a no-confidence motion against the government, although it failed due to lack of support from other parties.

FDI in retail was the bone of contention in the monsoon session as well. Both the BJP and the Left parties have been strong opponents of FDI in retail, the former because retail trade is its main vote bank and the latter for its concern about foreign investors. The UPA has no objection to discussing the proposal even though it is really an administrative decision and does not require parliamentary approval. But it would not like the proposal to be put to vote.

Apparently, the intention of the BJP and the Left parties is not to bring down the government. If that were so they would have supported the no confidence motion of TMC. But neither the BJP nor the Left are content to have a mere debate on the issue. That was done in the monsoon session. Now they insist on debate with voting. The Left parties have moved notices under Rule 184 in the Lok Sabha and 168 in the Rajya Sabha seeking disapproval of the government decision.

The government can be in a difficult position if it comes to voting. Surely, there is no unanimity even among different parties. DMK may be unwilling to go with the government and most probably will abstain. The two other parties - SP and BSP - on whom the UPA will have to depend for support do not seem to be willing to go with the government either. They have already expressed their opposition against FDI in retail. The most that can be expected from them is to abstain from voting. There are also some parties in NDA that are in favour of FDI in retail mainly because it is going to benefit the farmers. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is a case in point.

If the motion is admitted by the speaker, the government would be short of 10-12 votes to command majority. If the government succeeds it will clear the way for the rest of the session. But if the proposal is defeated, it will embarrass the government but it will not fall since FDI in retail is not a financial bill. However that will stop all reforms until the general elections. The government will strive to avoid that situation even if it leads to a repeat of the earlier session of parliament.

(D H Pai Panandiker is the president of RPG Foundation, a private think tank)

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