Politics of FDI ?
Last week I had written that the logjam in Parliament was probably to stall the Lok Pal Bill. As events have started unfolding, the presumption is coming out to be correct. If in the first week, the Parliament did not function on the issues of corruption, black money and corruption, in the second week, the provocation has come from the arbitrary manner in which the decision on 51 percent FDI in retail was announced following a meeting of the Union Cabinet.
The move seems to have united the entire opposition and some of the allies of the UPA too are adamant that the decision must be put in abeyance pending a discussion on the subject in Parliament. The fact is that the Cabinet is fully empowered to take such a decision but it is the timing of the announcement that has ruffled even some people in the ruling coalition and the Congress party. Knowing fully well that the government had many problems on hand and many Bills to get passed, there was little logic for the proclamation on this issue during the session period.
The opposition is also peeved that it was for the second time in recent history when the government has shown scant regard for Parliament by announcing crucial decisions while Parliament was in session. The first time was when the creation of Telangana was announced on December 9, 2009. The issue continues to remain contentious and has ensured that the Congress grip over the whole of Andhra Pradesh stands greatly eroded. Similarly, the FDI matter should not have been declared outside.
The Prime Minister appears to be adamant and seems to be in no mood to roll back his Cabinet’s decision. Many Congress party MPs have been admitting in private conversations that the move was ill timed and could jeopardize the government. But it defies all logic to believe that the Cabinet approved of a decision without taking consent of the Congress leadership. It seems obvious to most people that the Prime Minister went ahead after obtaining a green signal from the party bosses. But an attempt is now being made to distance the party from this announcement. It is evident that politics is happening. In any case it is the party’s government that has taken the decision and there is no way the Congress can distance itself from the issue.
There are two ways that this issue can be looked at. One that the timing went wrong and the government and the party are trying to create an ambiguity that they were not on the same page. Second, the Congress managers have thought through the consequences and find greater comfort at being pushed on the issue of FDI in retail rather than on corruption. The thinking could be that the continuation of this government has always had question marks over it and therefore it is better to shift the focus from corruption to FDI. Many cynics believe that it will not be so hard on either the Prime Minister or the party if it government gets isolated on FDI rather than corruption. At least the honour will be preserved. In any case, the Lok Pal bill will be a casualty.
All this is going on and the new week may bring in new things on the table. This is a difficult phase for the government and it should not try to make FDI a prestige issue as it had done with the Nuclear deal. While it managed to survive the nuclear deal due to dissensions within the BJP, the same may not necessarily happen on FDI.