NEWS ANALYSIS By absenting themselves from voting on the FDI Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the 3 TDP MPs have dealt a deadly blow amid Naidu’s padayatra to revive the flagging fortunes of the party

Hemmed in from all sides by powerful foes and internal controversies surfacing at critical junctures, the Telugu Desam Party finds itself in an awkward position once again.

By absenting themselves from voting on the FDI Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Y. S. Chowdary, T. Devender Goud and G. Sudha Rani, have dealt a deadly blow amid party supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu’s padayatra to revive the flagging fortunes of the TDP which has not won a single Assembly by-election during the past three-and-a-half years.

At a time when there is stiff competition between the TDP, the TRS and the YSR Congress to occupy the Opposition space, these MPs have lent credence to the allegation that Naidu is in cahoots with the Congress.

That is why the TDP is reluctant to table a no-confidence motion against the fragile Kiran Kumar government, weakened further by withdrawal of support by the MIM, they say.

Terming the trio’s absenteeism as just an embarrassment for the TDP is viewed by the party’s harsher critics as a charitable view.

One version they are circulating is that the MPs, two of whom have extensive business interests, have been arm-twisted by the Centre into doing so.

The TDP’s defence is equally strong: how could it vote against the FDI Bill in the Lok Sabha and still ask three MPs to absent themselves in the Rajya Sabha. Hadn’t the remaining two members of the Rajya Sabha, N. Harikrishna and C. M. Ramesh, voted against the Bill, they ask.

The YSR Congress, is, however, convinced, that the absentee MPs could not have dared to behave thus without Mr. Chandrababu Naidu’s blessings. Keeping aside the merits of these arguments, the fact remains that Mr. Naidu is caught in an issue of conflict of interest. On the ideological plane, the TDP opposes foreign investment in retail and, in the Rajya Sabha itself, the party described it as ‘Foreign Direct Interference’.

“The UPA Government talks of inclusive governance, but gives fruits to itself”, Mr. Ramesh said in the House of Elders.

Yet, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu’s family are into business through the highly successful Heritage Foods, a company established way back in 1992, to sell milk and other dairy products.

It later diversified into ‘Fresh’, a retail chain that runs 72 outlets.

Heritage and FDI

Even as the debate was raging on the FDI issue in Parliament, business dailies published reports quoting M. Sambasiva Rao , president of the Rs. 1,400 crore Heritage Foods India Limited (HFIL), about the company’s future plans. He reportedly said the Board had cleared a proposal to hive off the retail business into a wholly-owned subsidiary and to bring strategic or financial partners, both domestic and foreign.

The statement was poorly timed. The company hastily issued a clarification to the BSE that it was open for strategic partnership in retail business for accelerating growth but the promoters were not looking to sell their stake. “Before finalising any such deal, we will follow the prescribed guidelines”, the company separately informed the National Stock Exchange.

Mr. Naidu has much explaining to do to dispel numerous misgivings over their dual stand on the FDI issue which has triggered discontent within his own party’s rank and file. The earlier he clears the air, the better it would be for the party. Otherwise, it will concede more Opposition space to its main rivals than it has already done.