With numbers favouring, UPA confident of FDI debate
The government Tuesday expressed confidence it has the numbers to counter the opposition in a parliament debate on FDI in retail, an issue which has stalled parliament for four days.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters after meeting UPA alliance partners to thrash out a consensus on the issue: "Yes, we are confident of the numbers."
The government also said it was not averse to voting on the issue, something it was trying to avert till Monday. It has left it Speaker Meira Kumar to decide how the issue should be debated in the Lok Sabha.
According to informed sources, Meira Kumar will take a decision on the debating rules - 184 (debate with voting) and 193 (debate) - by Friday. The government may go for a debate by next week, the sources added.
The government's overt confidence came after it convinced the DMK, an ally with 18 MPs, on the advantages of opening up the market to foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has been supportive of FDI in retail from the beginning.
On Monday, UPA allies, including Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), as well as the Trinamool Congress said they were for a debate in parliament, adding to the government's comfort zone.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters after the UPA meeting: "The UPA is firmly united and all constituents are behind the government on any debate in parliament.
"The government is not averse to discussion under any rule. We are not concerned about voting," he said after the one-and-a-half hour meeting in the parliament's library building.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left are for a debate with voting as they felt the government didn't have support over the issue in the house.
According to Congress sources, the government is against voting as the opposition could then seek a vote every time a reform measure is pushed.
Besides Manmohan Singh, others who took part in the meeting included UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.
The meeting was called after the DMK expressed reservations on FDI.
But ahead of the meeting, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said that his party will back the government in case of a vote to deny the "communal" BJP any political advantage.
While there is no danger to the government if it loses the vote as it is not a financial issue, it could cause political embarrassment.
The BJP accused the government of wasting four days of parliament to gain time to "manage" the numbers game in the Lok Sabha.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) also accused the government of holding up parliament in order to muster support.
The total strength of the Lok Sabha is 544. In a vote, the government will need only a simple majority.
The UPA, with its main allies, now has 245 members. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 150 seats and the Left have 24, taking it to a total of 174 assured votes against retail FDI.
Among other parties, Biju Janata Dal with 14 seats, AIADMK with nine and Telugu Desam Party with six have vowed to vote against the government.
The Trinamool Congress, with 19 MPs, softened its stand Monday by leaving the decision of voting or no voting to the speaker.
The Samajwadi Party with 22 seats and BSP (21) are against retail FDI but they may abstain from voting -- and thus bail out the government.