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Politics saves the day for Congress

Politics brings together strange bedfellows and this was amply seen in the debate on Foreign direct investment (FDI) in both houses of Parliament. Arch rivals – the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – joined hands to frustrate government’s move to bring FDI in multi-brand retail.

Mamata Banerjee tried to woo her foe number one – the Marxists. On the other hand, sworn enemies – Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav – came on one platform to bail out the government in voting in Parliament and, thereby, defeated the opposition-sponsored resolution comfortably. In their calculation, the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was much more important than the debate over multi-national giants,
kirana
stores and farmers. After all, the centre has left it to the state governments to decide whether or not to allow FDI, they argued.

Despite best efforts of the BJP, the resolution was seen by two Uttar Pradesh-based parties in the context of survival of a secular government at the centre. The BJP was hoping to keep the focus on FDI, and away from the communal-secular divide, but for the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), as far the UPA was concerned, too much hinged on the FDI vote. Apparently, the BJP was finding its communally divisive agenda difficult to live down.

No matter what the BJP professes in the immediate context, all its actions were viewed by other secular parties in the larger context of its communal politics. Fear of the BJP’s sectarian politics is enough to drive parties such as SP and BSP into the camp of the Congress. To the credit of Congress political managers, the FDI vote turned out not just on economy, but on the country’s socio-economic fabric too. While the BJP’s past wrongdoings are still helping the Congress, the Congress’s present transgressions are not coming to the aid of the BJP.

The BJP must think afresh what purpose it has served by indulging in politicking and waste the two Houses’ time on an executive decision that did not require any parliamentary approval in the first place. The party certainly needs a more mature leadership which upholds the nation’s interest above that of the party.

The BJP did not allow Parliament to conduct its business session after session. It crippled functioning of Parliament over ‘Coalgate’, which it had (temporarily?) forgotten to spend all its energy on a policy issue, which the Hindutva party itself had pushed for when it was in power. By insisting on a debate with vote, the BJP had hoped to shame the Congress; in return it has itself been faced with huge embarrassment.

The debate did not throw any fresh light on merits or demerits of allowing foreign supermarkets in the country. Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, tried to make the point that foreign food giants used imported potatoes, a charge that was forcefully  rebutted by the young Congress member Deepender Singh Hooda, saying half of potatoes used by food giants came from Gujarat.

Left leaders invoking an outdated and obsolete ideology, refused to learn anything from their misplaced opposition to reforms – India joining the WTO and signing the nuclear treaty with the US.

The Trinamool Congress was snubbed on day one after its no-confidence move found no takers.

The UPA has been bailed out of a possible excruciating situation by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. Both will extract their pound of flesh. The political drama has left a feeling of disgust at the way politics is played at the highest level.

The Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma, who replied to debate in both houses, exhibited an outstanding performance and demolished Sushma Swaraj’s scathing attack on the government, point by point. A powerful speaker, Swaraj, who comes out superbly in debates, this time delivered a somewhat lacklustre speech on FDI debate. Except a forceful speech by leader of the Opposition, Arun Jaitey in the Rajya Sabha, it was a tame affair after Mayawati declared that the BSP would vote in favour of the government’s agenda.

The man who acted behind-the-scenes, quietly working to win over Mulayam Singh and Mayawati, was Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.

In the Rajya Sabha, it appeared as if the BSP supremo read out the script prepared by Kamal Nath.

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister has been quoted as saying, ‘I met her after midnight. I explained well and she understood better. At the core of our strategy was to play on the front foot and show the people of the country that the politics of opposition practiced by the BJP is all about negativism.’

Kamal Nath repudiated the charge that he had stuck a deal with Mayawati and reportedly said, ‘We managed to convince her finally that BJP was doing politics in the garb of a debate on FDI. She understood my point and decided to support us.’ According to him, the debate was never about good and bad in the FDI and its applicability. It was just politics. ‘Mayawati is a wise politician and we know how to convince others.’

It was evident from Mayawati’s speech in the Rajya Sabha that she was provoked by Sushma Swaraj’s personal attack on her, alleging that it was ‘FDI versus CBI.’ Swaraj had charged that the BSP chief’s support was part of a quid pro quo with the UPA government.  (IPA)
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