Irrespective of how the Rajya Sabha votes on the resolution against Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail, the United Progressive Alliance government has won where it matters most: in the Lok Sabha. Given that some of the constituents and supporting parties of the UPA were against FDI in multi-brand retail, the government did well to tide over this mini-crisis, defeating the Opposition-sponsored resolution comfortably enough in the end. A loss in the Lok Sabha would have raised questions about the legitimacy of the government, and of the continuance of the pro-reforms push. However, the walkout by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, both opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail but supportive of the government, ensured the defeat of the resolution moved by the principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The fact that the numbers in support of the UPA did not add up to 272 or more, which is the absolute majority in the House, is the only consolation for the BJP, the Left parties and the Trinamool Congress, who were in the forefront of the battle against the government on this issue. But the Congress will have no problem in dealing with this “moral defeat” that means nothing at all in real terms.
The way the vote went is a pointer to emergence of key political fault-lines in the run up to the 2014 general election. Both the SP and the BSP were content to register their opposition on FDI and walk out without actually voting against the government. Obviously, in their calculations, the survival of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is much more important than the debate over multinational giants, kirana stores and farmers. After all, the government had left it to the States to decide whether or not to allow FDI. Despite the best efforts of the BJP, the resolution was seen by the two Uttar Pradesh-based parties in the context of the survival of a secular government at the Centre. The BJP was hoping to keep the focus on FDI, and away from the communal-secular divide, but for the SP and the BSP, as for the UPA, too much hinged on the FDI vote. Clearly the BJP is finding its communally divisive agenda difficult to live down. No matter what it professes in the immediate context, all its actions are viewed by other secular parties in the larger context of its communal politics. Fear of the BJP’s sectarian politics is enough to drive parties such as the SP and the BSP into the arms of the Congress. To the credit of Congress political managers, the FDI vote turned not just on the economy, but on the country’s social-democratic fabric too. While the BJP’s past wrongdoings are still helping the Congress, the Congress’s present wrongdoings are not coming to the aid of the BJP.