India's Parliament on Tuesday began a two-day debate on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail as the government and the opposition exchanged blows ahead of a vote.
But it was the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj that kept the government on the edge through the day as they remained ambivalent on which side they will take on the vote.
The day began with Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj opposing FDI in multi brand retail and saying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should fight for the poor and country and not for multinationals who would deal a body blow to small traders.
"Fight for the poor and not for the rich. Fight for the country and not for multinationals," said Swaraj at a heated debate on FDI.
"Fight for our own country and not outsiders and we would be by your side. I can assure that at the world investors´ summit I will go with your and say that India is not against FDI in every sector. They can come in sectors like infrastructure," said Swaraj.
"It will be a grand occasion if the Prime Minister of India and the Leader of Opposition go together and invite them to invest in India," said Swaraj.
She said there is no need for FDI in selling rice and wheat, something that our people are doing and can do well.
Addressing the Prime Minister, Swaraj said: "So I ask you to reconsider your decision. We do not want to defeat you but make you change your view and come with us."
Uproar was witnessed in Lok Sabha over the debate on the FDI on Tuesday and all hell broke loose when Swaraj was speaking.
Swaraj said the government did not take the lawmakers or parties into confidence while making the decisions despite promises to do so made earlier by present President Pranab Mukherjee, who was then the Finance Minister.
Swaraj said they were stubborn over the issue because the government did not consult them.
"The government is showcasing figures, but no one knows from where those figures come," she said, and asked if companies like Wal-Mart would offer loans to farmers when they need it.
For quite some time there were shouting as she spoke and attacked the government over their claims.
Speaker Meira Kumar later pacified them and Swaraj resumed speaking.
Swaraj said China would benefit while there would be darkness in Indian homes.
Defending government decision on FDI in multi-brand retail, Union Minister Kapil Sibal said it was not mandatory for all states to implement multi-brand retail.
"I do not understand the point of this discussion..If states do not want to implement FDI in retail then let them not do it. All these talks of Opposition are exaggerated," Sibal said.
He said: "It is not correct to say that foreign retailers will ruin country´s economy...Foreign retail shops permitted only in cities with more than 10 lakh population. I must say India has 53 such cities....We were told that Opposition ruled states did not want FDI in retail in those states. If you exclude these then only 18 cities will be left who can implement this policy."
Slamming the opposition parties, Sibal said: "How can the Opposition stop Chief Ministers who want to implement FDI in retail? Is it constitutional?"
He said debate on the issue is unnecessary as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised FDI in retail in its 2004 manifesto.
"The BJP should explain that why it changed its mind on FDI in retail in 2009 after supporting it in 2004," Sibal said.
Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav expressed his opposition to FDI but later speaking to reporters, refused to take a side over the vote.
"As far as FDI in retail is concerned, it is not good for the country. It is not going to benefit the farmers of the country," Yadav said.
"Small traders will not be able to compete with the big retailers. This is going to lead to unemployment," he said.
"We advise the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government to drop plans of implementing FDI in retail," Yadav said.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Saugata Roy opposed the FDI in multi-brand retail and said: "The TMC had shown moral courage by opposing the FDI in retail. When we moved the no-confidence motion against the government on this issue, no one stood with us at that time."
The relationship between West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee´s TMC and the UPA touched its lowest point when it withdrew support to the latter over its recent economic reforms, including FDI in multi-brand retail, hike in diesel price and cap on subsidy in LPG cylinders.
TMC with 19 MPs was UPA´s second biggest constituent and the biggest ally of the Congress party which spearheads the government.
While Congress led UPA would bail itself out in Lok Sabha, in Rajya Sabha it stands a crucial test since the Congress lacks adequate numbers in the upper house.
The FDI debate under Rule 168, which entails voting, is set to take place in the Rajya Sabha on Dec 6 and 7.
The support of Mayawati and the SP are crucial for the government in Rajya Sabha.