Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's dinner invite to senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday to attempt to end the political logjam in Parliament, appears to have not cut much ice with the main opposition, as it has resolved to continue to corner his government on the decision to allow foreign direct investment in the country's retail sector.
Singh had hosted a dinner for L.K.Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, the three top BJP leaders, on Thursday night at his 7 Race Course Road residence in an effort to ensure that the winter session of Parliament is not lost to the standoff between the government and the opposition over the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail.
Television reports said there was no breakthrough.
At the dinner, the BJP was reportedly adamant that the only way it will allow Parliament to function without disruption is if the government agrees to discuss its major policy decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail under Rule 184, which entails a vote.
The government was equally adamant that it was an executive decision that does not need Parliament's approval. It is ready to discuss the issue, but it does not want a vote.
To that, the BJP reminded the government that it had promised last December, in both Houses, that all stakeholders, including political parties, would be consulted before a decision was taken on the FDI issue.
Interacting with media here late last evening, BJP spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, said the opposition would firmly demand a debate on the matter of reforms in economy like foreign direct investment (FDI) in domestic retail sector, insurance and public provident fund.
"This government has no right to continue to be in power, the BJP has been maintaining that. But we can't allow any privilege to the government through our actions; we will try to corner it by the issues, which are most effective. So we thought that the best way to achieve this was to get voting done on (rule no.) 184, and would stand firm on this demand," said Hussain.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh avoided a no confidence vote, which could have led to an announcement of mid-term general elections before 2014.
Opposition leaders pushed for the vote in parliament, but the proposal was rejected.
Although for the moment, there is no threat of the government falling, an obstructive opposition and unreliable allies could mean there is little progress on reforms like FDI being opened up for multi-brand retail sector, insurance and pension businesses in the parliament's month-long winter session.
On this score, Hussain questioned as to why the federal government was hesitating debate on FDI.
"The country should be aware of the fact that the stubborn and arrogant attitude of the Congress party is stopping the parliament from functioning. Why is the government hesitating in obliging for a debate on FDI under (rule no.) 184 when political parties want the same? Last time as well, the government consumed an entire session by acting rigid and then later agreed upon it later on. So if the BJP wants a debate under (rule no.) 184 why is this problematic for the government to accept if they have the numbers for support? This is the question before the government," added Hussain.
The reform does not require parliamentary approval.
But left and right wing opposition parties, with an eye to upcoming state and national elections, want to use the session to hold the government to account on the policy, which they say does not have popular support.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), which is the strong arm of the Left Front, is pushing hard for a symbolic vote against the measure.
If the government loses the vote, it would be an embarrassing setback for a policy on which it has staked so much political capital, said federal lawmaker and politburo member of CPM, Sitaram Yechury.
It could also sap its political will to pursue more difficult reforms to cut high spending and reduce a ballooning budget deficit.
As for the FDI, the CPM slammed the Congress party-led federal government of going back on its word for a debate on the floor of the house.
"That assurance (from government) has been clearly violated and therefore in our opinion another round of discussion without voting is meaningless, because the government is not honouring its own assurances, apart from being a matter of breach of privilege," said Yechury.
Most of the initiatives Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced to date have required only an executive order, so this session of parliament poses the biggest test yet of his reform drive. If he fails to get key allies and the BJP on board, his reformist legislative agenda could stall.
Among the reform Bills due to be introduced are measures to allow up to 49 percent foreign investment in local insurance companies and domestic pension funds.
Currently, the cap for insurers is at 26 percent and foreign investors are barred from buying into pensions.
In this context, Yechury also lashed out at former coalition partner of the federal coalition government, the regional Trinamool Congress (TMC) for demanding a no confidence motion when aware that it is a game of numbers.
"As far as the Trinamool Congress is concerned, I don't know they are now today acting as the 'B' team of the Congress. The confidence motion that they sought to bring would have given the Congress a reprieve, because on the confidence motion the SP (Samajwadi Party), BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) all of them said that they are not going to go for the destabilisation of government so clearly the confidence motion was not going to win," remarked Yechury.
The TMC party that was the major partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance, withdrew its support over the issue of reforms, leaving Manmohan Singh in charge of a minority administration at a time when he is trying to revive growth in Asia's third-largest economy.
And any setback on FDI in retail could also sap the government's political will to pursue more difficult reforms to cut high spending and reduce a ballooning budget deficit.
Uncertainty surrounding the passage of these bills has contributed to a 3.8 percent fall in the benchmark BSE stock market index since the start of October. (ANI)