It could well be termed the moment when UPA II exploded to life.
On a quiet Friday evening as people began to wend their way homewards in anticipation of a quiet weekend, Manmohan Singh's government finally decided to break their shackles and boldly at that.
Close on the heels of the government decision on Thursday night to hike diesel prices and reduce the number of subsidised LPG cylinders per family to six, came the politically-fraught decision to allow 51% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, 49% investment by foreign airlines in aviation sector and sale of equity in four PSUs.
The government also approved foreign investment of up to 49% in the power trading exchanges in the country and decided to raise FDI cap in certain sections of the broadcasting sector to 74%. For TV news channels and FM radio, though, the cap of 26% will apply.
From a government that till recently has been seen as mired in unprecedented policy paralysis till recently, it was some bombshell.
Informed sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly pushed for the decision at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), saying the United Progressive Alliance government needs to "bite the bullet" if it has to.
"We have to bite the bullet. If we have to go down, let us go down fighting," the Prime Minister was quoted by sources as having said at the meeting.
The government announced the decisions after meetings of the Union Cabinet as well as the CCEA, prompting angry reactions from its key ally Trinamool Congress (TMC) as well as from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Left parties.
"We are giving a 72-hour deadline to roll back the decisions. We will discuss and take a tough stand at the TMC parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday if the government does not listen to us," TMC General Secretary and Railway minister Mukul Roy said.
The UPA government had first made an attempt to introduce FDI in multi-brand in November last year but beat a hasty retreat following stiff opposition from the TMC, the Samajwadi Party and opposition parties.
It has now decided to take the plunge within days of the conclusion of recent session of Parliament which was disrupted over coal scam.
The Prime Minister later justified the decisions saying they were aimed at pushing economic growth and generating employment in "difficult times".
He said the steps had been taken in national interest and sought support from everyone on these measures.
"The Cabinet has taken many decisions today to bolster economic growth and make India a more attractive destination for foreign investment," Singh said in a statement, justifying the step to liberalise FDI in multi-brand retail, aviation, broadcasting and power.
"I believe that these steps will help strengthen our growth process and generate employment in these difficult times," the Prime Minister said, adding, "I urge all segments of public opinion to support the steps we have taken in national interest."
Commerce Minister Anand Sharma at a press conference in New Delhi clearly conveyed the message that the Centre had decided to go ahead with the reforms despite opposition. "Let us not confuse consensus with unanimity. For unanimity we will have to wait in eternity. This (today's decision) has consensus," he said.
For single-brand retail, the Cabinet decided that any firm seeking waiver of the mandatory 30% local sourcing norms will have to set up a manufacturing facility in the country, the minister said.
This will help, in particular, foreign watch makers and textile manufacturers who want to enter India on their own, he added.
Swedish retailer IKEA, which planned to invest Rs 10500 crore in India, had sought relaxations in clauses related to the 30% sourcing norms from small and medium units.
In November last year the government approved 51% FDI in multi-brand but the decision was put on hold.
The notification for implementation of the decision is expected by the end of this month.
The decision paves way for global retail giants WalMart, Carrefour and Tesco to open retail stores in India under their own brands.
At present WalMart has a 50:50 cash and carry joint venture with Bharti Group, while Carrefour runs wholesale stores. Tesco, on the other hand has a tie-up with the Tata group and supports the Indian firm in the running of Star Bazaar chain of retail outlets.
Welcoming the development, Future Group founder and CEO Kishore Biyani said: "FDI in multi brand retail is a welcome step. It will help in creation of more job. People will realise it is a win-win for all".
Expressing similar views, Bharti Enterprises Vice Chairman and Managing Director Rajan Bharti Mittal said: "This is a landmark decision in India's economic reforms process. Development of organised retail in India will bring immense benefits to stakeholders across the value chain - from farmers to small manufacturers and above all to consumer".
Ernst & Young Partner Paresh Parekh said the move is one of the boldest steps and both global and domestic retailers will be going back to drawing boards to explore joint ventures.
The ailing Kingfisher Airlines, hungry for funds, also welcomed the move saying it will now be able to re-engage with prospective investors in a "more meaningful manner".
"This (49% FDI in aviation) will open up a wide range of opportunities for both Indian carriers and foreign carriers who wish to participate in the strong growth potential for civil aviation in our country," Kingfisher said in a statement.
Also welcoming the move was Amber Dubey, head of aviation at KPMG India, a consultancy.
"This is a very positive step," he said. "I don't expect a flurry immediately... but there will be interest. A lot of people have been watching."