Parliament adjourns over opposition to retail reforms
Both houses of Parliament adjourned for the day on Thursday, the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament, following an opposition uproar over the government's reluctance to have a discussion on allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country's retail sector.
Pandemonium reigned in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha over the issue.
As Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar began Question Hour; opposition lawmakers shouted anti-UPA slogans, after which the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice temprarily before finally being adjourned for the day without any legislative business being transacted.
Earlier, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) tabled a motion of no confidence against the government, but Speaker Kumar rejected it.
Similar scenes were also witnessed in the Rajya Sabha, where its Chairman M Hamid Ansari was forced to adjourn proceedings.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader M. Venkaiah Naidu slammed the government for insulting parliament and demanded an immediate clarification about a discussion on retail reforms.
"Now, they (Congress party) are saying they do not need the approval of the parliament. If they do not need the approval of the parliament, then, why you gave such assurance to the parliament? Why are you insulting the parliament? Why are you running away from debate now? Why are you running away from voting? You are saying you have got majority. Then let there be discussion and vote. Let the country decide afterwards. Why are you running away? For this the government should give a reply. They have betrayed the parliament. They have insulted the parliament. They have insulted the opposition parties. They have even let down their allies also that is why this peculiar situation has arisen. That is why we are demanding government must come forward to give a clarification, have discussion and then voting also. Till such time we will not leave this government because the issue concerning the interest of the larger section of the population of the country. It is not an ordinary issue," said Naidu.
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.
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.