A breakthrough in the four-day-old parliamentary gridlock seemed in sight with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, now confident of its numbers, indicating that it was even prepared to debate FDI in multi-brand retail under a rule that mandates voting, if that was the only way forward.
With the Opposition still firm, the UPA’s constituents, which met on Tuesday, agreed to leave the final decision to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar even as they maintained that in principle, they were against voting on an executive decision as it would set a bad precedent in governance.
“We don’t want to set a bad precedent by putting an executive decision to vote,” Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said. “But if it becomes unavoidable, in the interest of the smooth functioning of Parliament, then we are prepared [for that eventuality]. The UPA allies have expressed their solidarity with this view.”
The meeting of the UPA allies — and its outcome — sets the stage for a meeting between Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley on Wednesday to work out the modalities.
Emerging from the hour-long meeting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, responding to a question on the Opposition’s insistence on a discussion with voting, said the government was “not concerned” about it, and “yes, we are confident of our numbers.”
Dr. Singh’s confidence stems from the fact that the UPA, as Mr. Nath said, “is fully united on any decision of the Speaker and the government... All constituents are firmly behind the government… The government is not averse to discussion under any rule. We are not concerned about voting.” He also pointed out that at Monday’s all-party meeting, “a larger number was in favour of [the nature of the] discussion to be decided by the Speaker.”
Union Home Minister and Leader of the House Sushilkumar Shinde said: “By Monday, everything would be decided and settled.”
The metaphorical spring in the Congress step also comes from the fact that its ally, the 18 MP-strong Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), has assured the government of its support, albeit “with bitterness,” as it feels that the more overwhelming political need is to keep the BJP at bay.
“The UPA government’s continuance is a must in the present situation. Though we have differences on FDI, we’ll support the government to avert the UPA’s fall. We do not want to give room for the BJP to come to power,” DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said in a three-page statement, two days after Congress emissary Ghulam Nabi Azad met him in Chennai.
With the DMK coming to the UPA’s rescue, taking its numbers to 255, and both the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, which provide it with critical outside support, already having said they would leave it to the Speaker to decide whether to permit voting or not, the government is now in a comfortable position.
Of course, the BSP’s support on FDI comes with a rider — it wants the bill on reservation in government job promotions tabled in Parliament first, something the SP is opposing tooth and nail, as it will affect its core vote base. To demonstrate its good intentions, the government listed the quota bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday. But the numbers are such that the government needs the active support of either the SP or the BSP. If the other party abstains, it will be through. Besides, the Trinamool Congress may abstain in case of a vote as it currently does not wish to be seen in the company of either the BJP — with West Bengal’s 30 per cent Muslim vote — or the Left Parties, its main political rival in the State.