What has changed since 2002, when Congress opposed FDI in retail, asks Sushma

The Opposition parties on Tuesday went hammer and tongs against the government for its decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail even as the much demanded debate under rule 184 (that entails voting) began on the issue in the Lok Sabha. They wanted the government to withdraw the decision.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a constituent of the United Progressive Alliance, and the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (who extend outside support to the UPA) claimed that the move would lead to many small traders losing their jobs, farmers being badly hit and all profits being siphoned off by retail giants like Walmart at the cost of the Indian people and consumers.

While the DMK’s T.K.S. Elangovan made it clear that the party, though opposed to FDI, would not vote against the government, the SP and the BSP remained noncommittal on the issue of voting. BSP floor leader Darasingh Chauhan kept the government and Opposition parties guessing by announcing that the party’s strategy would be out on Wednesday at the time of voting.

Earlier, initiating the debate on the motion, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj recalled that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha had, in 2002, opposed FDI in retail. She wanted to know what had changed for the government to decide to implement it now.

When large supermarkets were a failed concept in the Western countries, how could the UPA-II regime claim that it would create job opportunities here, Ms. Swaraj wondered. She said the BJP was not opposed to FDI per se and offered to travel with Dr. Singh around the globe to invite investments in other sectors like infrastructure.

Ms. Swaraj said the foreign retail chains would not buy products from small and medium farmers at all.

Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress) wondered out loud as to why the government took important decisions, such as the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal and FDI in retail, ahead of the Presidential elections in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on the board of WalMart before she had joined the American government, Mr. Roy alleged, adding that her May 2012 visit to India was to make UPA-II agree to FDI in retail, a move that would benefit for the U.S.

“Does the government of India have to respond to American urging?” Mr. Roy said.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the decision on FDI in retail was not in the interest of the country as it would affect 20-25 crore people and their families connected with the small retail trade besides increasing unemployment: “I am not speaking for [the government] or against you. Please reverse the decision on FDI and call for an all-party meeting.”

Mr. Mulayam Singh asked why, if the decision would increase employment opportunities as claimed by the government, could it not allow retail chains all over the country rather than just those cities with a population of above 10 lakh. He warned that small traders might commit suicide because of its decision on FDI.

T.K.S. Elangovan (DMK) said the decision would affect a large chunk of farmers and small-time traders. “We will watch you [government] and correct you. We don’t want to go with the BJP [by opposing the government]”. The DMK member also made it clear that the party would not allow FDI in Tamil Nadu.

Darasingh Chauhan (BSP) said WalMart would only act as a commission agent between the farmers and the consumers and asked the government not to continue the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand trade in haste.

He reminded the government that the Britishers entered India to do spice trade and later brought the entire country under their control.

Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) criticised the government for not showing empathy for the plight of poor farmers in the country. He asked why, if the FDI in retail trade decision was in the interest of the country, were so many people opposed to it.

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