BJP to seek rejection of retail reforms in parliament, will press for voting

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 22, 2012 13:10 hrs

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday said they would seek the rejection of the proposal to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector and would press for voting on the issue in parliament.

Interacting with mediapersons on Thursday, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government had broken its promise of consulting the opposition on retail reforms.

"The BJP and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) both have resolved that the country is deeply agitated on the issue of FDI in retail, and therefore, many political parties have given notices. The NDA, in its meeting, has resolved already that we shall seek the rejection of the FDI proposal under voting provisions because the government has completely gone back on its assurance in both the houses of the parliament on the 07th of December that no FDI in retail shall be brought without consulting the opposition political parties and the government," said Prasad.

The government is scrambling for support during a parliament session that will severely test its economic reform agenda. For the moment, there is no threat of the government falling. But an obstructive opposition and unreliable allies could mean there is little progress on reforms like opening up insurance and pension businesses when parliament's month-long winter session gets under way on Thursday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has engaged in unusual dinner diplomacy with allies at his New Delhi home to build consensus on the next round of economic reforms, which need parliamentary approval.

Criticised in the past for cold-shouldering allies and opponents, Singh also plans to dine this week with leaders of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose obstructionist tactics washed out the last session. But analysts doubt he will manage to forge a consensus on the reforms.

Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said her party would make its stand clear on the matter at the time of discussion on the floor of the house.

"Firstly it should be decided that under which provision the discussion would take place. Our party will make its stand clear in the parliament at the time of discussions," said Mayawati.

Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ram Gopal Yadav said the party would take the decision at the time of voting in the parliament.

"We are ready for discussions and will take our decision when the voting will take place as to what we have to do.

Asked whether the house would function during the Winter Session, he said: "The answer for this will be given by the leaders of BJP and Congress."

Congress leader Harish Rawat said it was in the interest of the nation to allow the passage of the pending bills.

"We must follow the decision that would be taken by the speaker of the house. The most important thing is that both the houses must function and the pending bills should be passed," said Rawat.

Analysts warn of a "nightmare scenario" in which the government loses a test vote in parliament on its flagship reform - opening up the retail sector to foreign supermarkets, a decision that has drawn fire from both opponents and allies who say it will destroy the livelihoods of mom and pop store owners.

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.

They are pushing hard for a symbolic vote against the measure. If the government lost the vote, it would be an embarrassing setback for a policy on which it has staked so much political capital. It could also sap its political will to pursue more difficult reforms to cut high spending and reduce a ballooning budget deficit.

Most of the initiatives 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. (ANI)

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