Latching on to the WalMart lobbying disclosure report before the U.S. Senate that said it had spent money to acquire the right for direct investment in the Indian retail market, the Opposition on Monday alleged that their suspicion about a underhand deal on the FDI issue was vindicated, and demanded an independent enquiry and a reply from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The matter, raised during zero hour by Bharatiya Janata Party deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Ravi Shankar Prasad, was backed by not only the entire Opposition but also by the Samajwadi Party which supports the United Progressive Alliance government from outside, forcing two adjournments. Members of the BJP, Biju Janata Dal, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Janata Dal (United), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Asom Gana Parishad and the Trinamool Congress were up on their feet, demanding the withdrawal of the FDI policy.
Displaying unity, the Opposition forced two adjournments despite Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla assuring that he would convey the issue to the Minister concerned.
Mr. Prasad said Wal-Mart’s disclosure that it had paid Rs. 125 crore in the past four years and $3 million this year to acquire legal rights to enter the Indian market was all the more surprising after the government had denied pressure of any kind.
Demanding a government explanation, Mr. Prasad said the Wal-Mart disclosure raised a question mark on the entry of FDI in India. He pointed out that lobbying was illegal in the country and it amounted to bribery.
Debate ruled out
As the opposition joined forces, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien ruled out any kind of discussion on the issue during zero hour. He maintained that members were free to give notice for a formal discussion later. He dissuaded members from displaying newspapers and exhibits in the House.
When CPI(M) member Sitaram Yechury wanted the Chair to direct the government to give a reply, Mr. Kurien said he would have no objection if the government so desired to make one but that was up to the government. He made it clear that he could not seek an immediate response.
P. Rajeeve (CPI-M) called for an independent enquiry, while BJP members and JD(U) member Shivanand Tiwari insisted that the Prime Minister too make a statement.
Even as CPI’s D. Raja stressed that a letter was written to the Prime Minister, the Chair ruled that it was not possible to get the Prime Minister to answer all issues.
Efforts of Mr. Shukla to pacify members by promising to convey the issue to the Minister concerned did not yield results, with the Opposition sticking to their demand. It said such lobbying before amending Foreign Exchange Management Act was a serious issue.
The Chair first adjourned the House for 10 minutes and on resumption, the Samajwadi Party trooped into the Well, protesting reservation in promotions for SC and ST even as other parties kept up their pressure on the FDI issue.
The Bahujan Samaj Party members remained seated silently through the turmoil. Last week it had sided with the Congress in voting against the motion that sought withdrawal of the FDI policy.
With no let-up in the Opposition intent, the Chair adjourned the House for lunch recess.