What is causing the greatest concern to the Congress is that its two major allies — the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) which together have 36 MPs — are openly opposing the move to permit foreign direct investment (FDI) in the multi-brand retail sector.

In an attempt to soften them, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma pointed out in a letter that as India had a federal structure of government, “the FDI policy is an enabling framework and it remains the prerogative of the States to adopt it.”

Both allies were sharp in their public criticism of the Congress. TMC leader Sudip Bandopadhyay complained that there was no mechanism through which such issues could be discussed, repeating what the party had said after petrol prices were raised.

In Chennai, DMK president M. Karunanidhi said it was dangerous to permit FDI in retail trade as it would affect small traders and the middle-class consumers.

In its own ranks, the Congress did not just face opposition from Union Ministers A.K. Antony, Jairam Ramesh and Veerbhadra Singh (as reported earlier) but also from Vayalar Ravi and K.V. Thomas. The party's MPs from Uttar Pradesh have also joined the chorus of protest against the policy.