Rutwij Kokje on ‘The Power Games behind the FDI veil’

The debate on FDI in multi-brand retail has finally concluded in the Lok Sabha though it still in pending in the Rajya Sabha. UPA has defeated the motion introduced by Smt. Sushma Swaraj, with help from SP and BSP and some shrewd and crafty politics by the congress.

The Nays have it…

I won’t get into the pros and cons of this issue, since they have already been discussed in the house. The debate which went on for two days has seen arguments and counter arguments going back and forth, from a total of 23 speakers. Usually these debates  have no impact on the votes in the house, as voting is done as per the wishes of party leadership and are generally decided long before the debate, though these debates do allow the opinion of the members to be put forth to the country. I doubt any member changed their opinion on the basis of the debate.

While the debate itself was quite repetitive, there were a few things in the debate on which I would like to share my thoughts which go beyond the current discussion

Primarily, it was the futility of this debate in Parliament. Most of the speakers siding with the government have raised this one point. Why the insistence on the debate under rule 184 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha? As per the rule, Parliament votes on the motion moved by the member, rather than just discuss it. The state governments are left to have final call on the FDI. I would go beyond that, and say that the final call is with the people themselves. If people really do believe that this is detrimental to the Indian economy, they would boycott these chains. Still, while I can understand the having the debate, the insistence on debate under rule 184 was unnecessary.

Mrs. Swaraj making a stern point

Though Mrs. Swaraj did give a reason for such insistence, her answer is more worrisome than the question itself. She has stated at very beginning of her opening speech, that the insistence was because the government did not consult with them before announcing it. That there was no attempt at consensus building before announcing reforms is hardly any reason for going to such lengths. Members of opposition could have raised this issue in the house and made it clear to the government that it should follow the convention of building an all-party consensus before announcing such major policy reforms.

The current course of action has left the impression that all this was over a matter of ego. Is the ego of one person or party greater than that of the nation? Is that what Mrs. Swaraj believes?

In the same opening speech, Mrs. Swaraj also stated that Mr Yashwant Sinha has a better understanding of rural economy and that India is primarily a rural economy. Was Mrs. Swaraj perhaps alluding that Mr. Sinha was better suited as Finance Minister?  Reading between the lines, ‘We deserve to be on the ruling side more than you’.

Was all this debate all a matter of ego and power play for her? Is the BJP aspiration for power so great, that they are willing to sacrifice India for it? Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi had outright accepted the ambitions of the BJP to be on the ruling side, and stated that the ruling UPA too had the same ambitions. There is nothing wrong with such ambition. I completely agree with Mr. Joshi on that point. Most if not all, those who are in there are there for the same reason. In fact the basis of bi/multi-party democracy is that ambition. However sacrificing the national interest for the sake of ambition is what I find objectionable.

Mrs. Swaraj made another claim that the Congress used CBI to force a walk-out from SP and BSP. If it is indeed true than logically they have some skeletons in their closet and they would rather that those closets stayed shut and therefore gave in, as I doubt SP which is the ruling party of UP and BSP which was ruling party of UP, would give in to empty threats. They are strong enough to withstand that. Wasn’t Mrs. Swaraj banking on these parties support from them? Why was BJP willing to associate with, such a party, which they would have others believe to be shady in nature? Is BJP willing for any compromise just to embarrass the government? To oust the UPA?

Mr. Joshi would have us believe otherwise, with his statement that, if that is what they wanted, they would have participated moving the No-Confidence motion which the Mamata Banerjee led TMC had attempted to initiate with its 19 MPs, while it takes 50 MPs to move. However, BJP was well aware that the UPA had a tally of around 295 MPs in the house with the outside support provided by SP and BSP and therefore the motion would have failed and that would prevent them from moving another for another 6 months, meaning that should an opportunity present itself during the Budget session, they would be unable to take it.

Mr. Sibal is now UPA’s go-to man in tight situations like these!

The only reason BJP was so insistent on this debate was so because it believed that it would have the support of SP and BSP and therefore it could embarrass the government and create an illusion that the government lacked public backing and was forcing itself on the people. A well devised gimmick for the 2014 elections. It just miscalculated the support of SP and BSP.

The insistence that BJP showed on FDI issue was lacking during the previous session, when the whole session was wasted because the government refused to resign on the issue of ‘Coalgate Scam’.

At the time, the government was asking for a discussion, an apt opportunity for the BJP to corner the government over its corruption in Coal Mines. The BJP was vehemently declining to debate in the house and demanding immediate resignation. Why would BJP run from such a great opportunity to nail the government for corruption, unless they were afraid that it might reveal certain things, they would rather stay hidden. Something similar to what happened in the 2G Scam and its presumptive loss figures, which was exposed by the then Chief Auditor of CAG Mr. R.P. Singh in November 2012?

Last time a CAG had made such explosive disclosure; he was awarded Padma Vibhushan and then went on to become a MP and later Governor of Kerala. I am talking of Bofors scandal. Why was there no conviction from 1988 to 1990 or from 1998 to 2004 when here was no congress rule to interfere? Yet that issue crops up for every election.

Getting back to the current issue, throughout the debate, whenever someone spoke in favor of FDI, there was disturbance. That is not saying that there was none from the MPs from the ruling side.

Mr. Deepender Singh Hooda, quite rightly questioned BJP on what exactly it was opposing. Was it Multi-Brand retail? We already have that in our country. Was it FDI? Despite their opposition to it back in 90s, BJP had carried it forward and was looking for new avenues to open up to FDI. 

Has the Opposition taken the word literally and decided to oppose everything that government does? Is it an attempt to resolve its identity crisis or its leadership crisis?

The liberalization of telecom had seen similar opposition back in 80’s. The New Economic Policy in 90’s was the same. May it be BJP or its previous forms as Bhartiya Jana Sangh or as Janta Party. The BJP has indulged in scaremongering to oppose government policies and turn the people against the government.

At the end the BJP was graceless in defeat as usual. Mrs. Swaraj claimed that while government may have won technically, it had lost on moral grounds. What Moral grounds was she talking about? Who has given her the authority make calls on morality? Was BJP action of opposing something just for the sake of opposition, moral? BJP attempting to embarrass the government when it believed it had the numbers to do so, was moral? Spreading rumors on character of a person is moral?

Caught on the wrong side? Again?!

BJP has always indulged in finger pointing. Loss in election is because EVM was rigged. Loss in House was because of CBI. Someone is speaking against them because he is paid by congress to do so. Are they so helpless that they cannot control anything? Is it a wonder then that Indian history of 60 years is dominated by Congress rule, if this is the quality of primary opposition? They have never been graceful in defeat and on this issue again, they showed it. They blame and bash others. They have always indulged in a politics of negativity.

They have used the anger of general population against corruption to bash government over everything it does. However it cannot take them too far. They seemed to have learned nothing from 70’s and 80s.

They did get to displace congress in both instances. However from 1977 to 1980 we saw two Prime Ministers before finally the government collapsed making way for Mrs. Indira Gandhi again. The slogan used back then was ‘Indira ko hatao’.  She flipped it and made it ‘Garibi haao’.

Same was the case in 1988. It was another instance of non-congress government of Janata Party which lasted till 1990. In 1990 we saw a congress led minority government which emerged in an India which was fiscally ruined. He led a reform back then.

Time and again it has been shown that such negative politics will never sustain long.

Despite all the opposition, I would not be surprised if it is Narendra Modi who is one of the first to adopt retail FDI in Gujarat. The Karnataka Government also holds a Global Investors Meet to attract Domestic and Foreign Investment in the state. So I don’t doubt that that Karnataka would take advantage of this policy either. Their policy of duplicity has been their undoing previously in 2004 and 2009. What it has been doing makes it quite clear that BJP is desperate.

I believe that it is time that BJP shows some positive politics. The negative politics of BJP brought down its tally in Lok Sabha for 2 successive terms. It had to go from ruling to opposition in 2004 and even as opposition it lost its numbers in 2009. I would very much prefer a credible alternative to Congress as without it, there would be no checks or balances against the power of government. However BJP with its current politics will never be a credible alternative for me.

 (Rutwij is a Chartered Accountant student from Mumbai. He can be reached at Views are personal.)