UPA, Opposition brace up for stirring Winter Session of Parliament
The almost month-long Winter Session of Parliament will begin here from Thursday, and it is expected that the ruling UPA and the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will indulge in a verbal duel on several key policy issues, including the executive decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, despite all political parties assuring a smooth functioning.
An all party meeting held at Parliament House on Wednesday, saw Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar saying that political parties have assured to cooperate for transacting business in the house.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere, and added that the Parliament belongs to all and convergence has to be arrived at through discussion on contentious issues to avoid disruption of proceedings.
The Lokpal Bill, Whistle Blowers Protection and Reservation for Women in Parliament and State Legislature's Bills are among the twenty five important legislations lined up by the UPA Government for passage in the Winter Session.
Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, her party has given notice for discussion of FDI in retail under rules that entails voting. She also alleged that the government has violated its earlier assurance that a decision on FDI in retail would be taken only after arriving at a consensus on the issue.
Samajwadi Party leader Rewati Raman Singh said all issues should be discussed in the Parliament, but added that h FDI is the main issue.
He said, his party will take a final call on whether to go for voting on the issue tomorrow.
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said the mood among the opposition is that the Parliament should function smoothly.
The government has also reached out to all parties to discuss any issue and sought their cooperation for the smooth functioning of Parliament.
However, the ruling Congress said the government is ready for the face-off with the opposition.
Congress leader P.C. Chacko said: "The Congress party feels that all the contentious issues or all the issues on which the opposition is very much agitated, the government should be ready to discuss these matters in the house. There are issues like foreign direct investment (FDI), price rise, corruption, black money; the government should be ready to discuss any issue in parliament and there should not be any grievance from the opposition that the government is holding back any important issue from the parliament."
The government is scrambling for support ahead of a parliament session that will severely test its economic reform agenda. For the moment, there is no threat of it falling.
In the run-up to the Winter Session of Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has engaged in unusual dinner diplomacy with his allies to build a consensus on the next round of economic reforms, which need parliamentary approval.
Often criticized 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.
Chacko said: "The last two sessions is an experience, the government wishes and the Congress party also feels that the opposition this time should cooperate with the government to pass these important legislations and also to discuss this very important issue."
Anticipating that retail opening would be one of the key debatable issues to be taken up by the opposition parties, the Congress party spokesperson defended the government's move stating that foreign direct investment (FDI) is an immediate necessity for the country's ailing economy.
"A country of India's size, foreign investors we need; foreign investors coming in the FDI multi-brand is good for the country. Today the poor farmer is selling his products at a throw away price and is not getting a remunerative price. There has to be purchase arrangement, there has to be cold storage, there has to be cold chains and there has to be competitions, the farmer should be benefited, the consumer should be benefited," said Chacko.
In September, the government allowed opening of retail sector for foreign investors, which allows global firms such as Wal-Mart Stores to set up shop with a local partner and sell directly to consumers for the first time, which supporters say could transform India's USD 450 billion retail market and tame inflation.
The cabinet also approved bills to attract FDI into insurance and pensions in the latest move by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to restore confidence in the economy, but the reforms will face a tough fight in parliament.
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 both the 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.