New Delhi - Slamming the government for allowing FDI in retail, the Opposition on Tuesday asked it to withdraw the decision in national interest fearing it would render retailers jobless, impoverish farmers and hurt consumers.
Initiating the debate on the issue, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj contended that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 2002, had opposed FDI in retail and questioned as to what has changed that the government is so determined to implement it.
In her nearly 90-minute speech, punctuated by repeated disruptions and heated exchanges, Ms. Swaraj maintained that the concept of large supermarkets has failed in Western economies and wondered how the government was claiming it would create jobs in India.
She asserted that the BJP was not opposed to FDI per se and as Leader of the Opposition she was willing to travel with the Prime Minister across the world to invite investments in other sectors like infrastructure. Dr. Singh was present when she spoke.
Appealing to parties like the SP and the BSP to support the motion moved by her and Khagen Das (CPI(M)) against 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail, Ms. Swaraj said any defeat during vote will not bring down the government but will force it to rollback the decision on FDI.
â€śYour fear that the government will fall because of this vote is unfounded,â€ť she said turning to members of the SP and the BSP, which have so far maintained ambiguity over their stand on voting.
Pressing for rollback of the â€śdisastrousâ€ť FDI decision, she told the government â€śhum aapko hara ke jeetna nahin chahte, hum aapko mana ke jeetna chahte (We donâ€™t want the rollback by defeating you. We want the rollback by convincing you).â€ť
Earlier, the Opposition demanded separate debates with voting on FDI in retail and related amendments in Foreign Exchange Management Act rules, but it was vociferously opposed by the government and rejected by Speaker Meira Kumar.
The demand for separate discussion and voting was raised by BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and supported by CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia and Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI.
But, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who is Leader of the House, opposed the demand.
After considering the two views, the Speaker ruled that the debate on FDI and FEMA will be held together after which vote can take place separately on Wednesday.
Informing that she had consulted Mr. Nath and Mr. Shinde, she said the two issues are related and â€śtherefore to avoid repetition it was decided to have combined discussion...â€ť
Citing a rule, Mr. Sinha said debate and voting on FDI in retail under Rule 184 should not be clubbed with the one regarding modifications to FEMA notifications issued by the RBI in October.
He said members have the right to move amendments to FEMA modifications up to 30 working days from the day it was tabled in Parliament and that right should not be taken away.
â€śI request, doing so (clubbing the two) is not proper,â€ť he said, demanding separate debate and vote.
He noted that the notification was tabled on November 30 and the 30-day period will not end even on December 20, the last of the current Winter Session.
Mr. Sinha said the FEMA issue can be carried forward and discussed in the Budget Session or even the Monsoon Session.
Uproar over Gujarat gas deal
With Gujarat in the midst of polls, Chief Minister Narendra Modi was on Tuesday brought into a controversy by agitated Congress members in Parliament who created uproar over a news report alleging irregularities in a gas deal by the State government.
The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha saw Congress members waving copies of an article in a news magazine with the headline: â€śSweet deals are made of gasâ€ť and raising slogans against Mr. Modi from the aisle, with some even threatening to troop into the Well.
The article spoke of a â€śdubiousâ€ť company registered in Barbados enjoying a windfall of Rs 20,000 crore at the cost of Gujarat tax-payers in the wake of an agreement inked under Mr. Modiâ€™s watch.
The Lok Sabha was adjourned till 12.30 p.m. and the Rajya Sabha till 2 p.m.
BJP members were on their feet protesting against the Congress action but were dissuaded by their leaders including L.K. Advani who asked them not to raise counter-slogans and maintain restraint.
The Congress had on Monday demanded an answer from Mr. Modi over a report alleging that his government gave a foreign company stake in a gas exploration project virtually for nothing.
It said the Barbados-based company did not pay a single penny for the 10 per cent stake given to it by the Gujarat government.
Noting that the story in the news magazine raised certain questions, which Gujarat government and especially the chief minister must answer, the Congress had asked, â€śWho is the beneficiary?â€ť.