Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday vigorously defended his Cabinet's approval for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the multi-brand retail sector, hours after the Opposition and Congress allies forced an adjournment of Parliament for the third day demanding that the decision be reversed.

The Prime Minister used the valedictory session here of the Youth Congress convention of elected office-bearers to not only pitch for the controversial FDI policy but also criticise the Opposition for not allowing the Parliament to function, and explain the steps taken by the government to control inflation. He said he expected to see a reduction in inflation by March 2012.

Pointing to the benefits that would accrue to farmers and consumers, and increased employment opportunities in rural areas, if FDI in multibrand retail became a reality, the Prime Minister said the policy had a provision that would take care of the interests of small traders. Besides, the experience of other countries demonstrated that small and big retailers could co-exist.

“We have not taken this decision in haste, but after a lot of consideration,” Dr. Singh said, stressing, “It is our firm conviction that the decision will benefit our country.”

Referring to the opposition from many State governments, he said the Centre was not forcing anyone to follow this policy: “State governments that are not convinced of its usefulness have the means to prevent foreign participation in retail businesses in their States.” He asked the YC leaders to help the government in sending a right message to the public about its intention in permitting FDI in the retail sector.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who made her first post-surgery public speech at the convention, did not refer to the FDI issue at all.

Instead, describing corruption as “the plague of public life,” she said the government was committed to eradicating it through a strong and effective Lokpal Bill and several other laws, including one on electoral reforms. She only hoped that the Opposition would support the government in making this possible. It was the Congress, she said, which had given the country the Right to Information, “a powerful weapon against corruption.”

Both the Prime Minister and the Congress president said they hoped to bring in the Right to Food Bill in the winter session of Parliament.

Earlier in the day, the Youth Congress pulled in a range of speakers not just from the world of politics, including Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Kumari Selja and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, but also sociologist Ashis Nandy and Unique Identification Authority of India Chairman Nandan Nilekani.

Rahul on youth power

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who was the centrepiece of the two-day convention, spoke on Tuesday again. Making a short speech in English, he said: “Gandhiji broke the doors of our organisation open with the force of his personality. Today we don't have a Gandhiji. That is why we are using a system of elections and democratisation that will enable the Youth Congress to open itself to the youth of our nation. This system of periodic elections will ensure that the youth of India have the opportunity to elect their own leaders every two years.”

More In: National | News