Thanks to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which together account for 43 of 545 Lok Sabha members (which includes two nominated members not eligible to vote), the UPA on Wednesday succeeded in defeating the Opposition motion against FDI in the multi-trade retail sector.

At the conclusion of a tumultuous acrimonious two-day debate, the motion was rejected with 253 members voting against and 218 members in favour. Twenty-two members of the BSP and 21 members of the SP, whose party representatives vehemently opposed the FDI in the course of the debate, staged a walkout before the motion was put to vote.

Minutes after the motion was negated, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters that his government has the “support” of the House on the decision to open up multi-brand retail trade to foreign investors.

However, several Opposition leaders, including Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and D. Raja of the CPI, asserted that it was a “moral” defeat for the government as it could not demonstrate a simple majority of the effective strength of the people’s House.

The results announced by Speaker Meira Kumar, subject to correction, suggest that 29 members were absent from the House. There was no clarity at the time of writing about their identity and the parties they represented. The number of absentees is glaring as all parties had issued whip whose violation could lead to disqualification.

The bail-out of the government by the SP and BSP was along expected lines and their members walked out before the voting.

The House also rejected the motion seeking an amendment to the rules notified by the Reserve Bank under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) to facilitate FDI in multi-brand retail. While 254 voted in favour of the government, 224 went against it.

The government’s victory on the contentious issue of FDI was hailed by both the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. “FDI policy that we have put in place has the approval of this House [the Lok Sabha],” Dr. Singh said in Parliament House after the voting.

The voting was preceded by passionate and emotional appeals by the mover of the motion Ms. Swaraj and TMC MP Saugata Roy to the treasury benches not to be guided by partisan considerations and to pressure the government to defer the decision.

The crux of Ms. Swaraj’s appeal was that, going by the strength of the members of the parties who spoke against the motion, the majority of the House was completely opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail.

She said that if speeches during the debate gave any indication and the parties too voted accordingly on the motion, the tally would be 282 against FDI and only 224 in its support.

She said 22 leaders of 18 parties had participated in the debate, of which 14 supported the motion in their speeches. The senior BJP leader said this was not a vote on a communal or secular issue but about protecting the interests of the country. She told reporters later that the government “won technically but lost on moral grounds.”

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