Will the latest mechanisation of the Congress party to get its allies on board to discuss and vote on the foreign direct investment (FDI) proposal in multi-brand retail go down as one of the most insidious attempts to run roughshod over democratic principles? After almost a week of blowing hot and cold over the issue of allowing voting under Rule 184, the Congress party caved in when it knew that they had the majority to run the proposal through Lok Sabha.
Speaker of the lower house of Parliament Meira Kumar announced that the date and time of the discussion on the FDI in multi-brand retail would be decided later. Parliament has not been functioning since the winter session began on November 22 with BJP and a few Opposition parties demanding a discussion on FDI under a rule that entails voting.
All through the debate the Congress was wary of support as most of the political parties except the die-hard Congress supporters publicly, and some privately, concurred that the FDI in retail will be disastrous for the country. What really shook the government was the withdrawal of the Trinamool Congress support when its leader Mamata Banerjee in her characteristic style raised the pitch. But at the end TMC also tamely caved in (See box item). As it happened a few months ago during the Presidential election, Mamata Banerjee came out hammer and tongs against the government’s choice of candidates, but towards the climax gave the Congress a walk-over.
“Presiding officers can take any decision they want in the interest of running Parliament,” Kamal Nath, Parliamentary Affairs minister said. The crux of the matter was how the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) was brought around to close the deal. Till the time the government was not clear on the majority support for the proposal, it was adamant that there will only be a discussion but no voting at the end of it.
Insisting that numbers were “not a worry” for the government, Kamal Nath said that the MPs are responsible enough to decide (in favour of the issue). But the numbers in support of FDI in Parliament is quite evident. The Congress has 206 seats, while the DMK has 18, the NCP has 9 and other parties 21. The outside support for UPA in this proposal adds up to 50. The Samajwadi Party (SP) has 22 seats, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has 21 seats, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has 4 and Janata Dal (S) has 3 seats.
It has been a long conceded fact that the real backroom player in this deal was the CBI which is under the government’s control to investigate cases against top political leaders of certain allies and Opposition parties. The best way to tame the BSP, RJD and the SP into submission is the CBI with its plethora of cases pending against the party leaders with serious offences. If the government had to anyway let the Parliamentary proceedings go ahead with voting under Rule 184, then why did it waste four days of the winter session twiddling its thumbs is quite inexplicable.
The continuation of the UPA at the Centre is the need of the hour, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said in a statement, explaining his party’s decision to support the government. The DMK support for the government under the guise of keeping “communal forces at bay” is an ingenious way to wriggle out of uncomfortable questions for the simple fact that it had supported the NDA-sponsored Bharat Bandh against the FDI in retail a few weeks ago. Many of the top DMK leaders are under the CBI scanner in the 2G scandal.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s Indian joint venture said that it has suspended several employees as part of an internal corruption investigation. As reported by Organiser earlier there have been various allegations against the multinational over corrupt ways adopted to aggressively expand in a huge virgin market that is untapped by foreign retailers.
Wal-Mart’s joint venture with India’s Bharti Enterprises called Bharti Walmart said it had suspended “a few associates” and was “committed to conducting a Complete and thorough investigation.” The company’s chief financial officer was among the five employees suspended.
Even as there have been a series of large corruption charges against the government over the Commonwealth Games, 2G and Coalgate the unholy haste in allowing 51 per cent FDI in Indian retailer chains raises several questions. A filing made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on November 15 said that Walmart is investigating potential violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Brazil, China and India, among other markets. It is to be noted that Walmart’s Mexico subsidiary is already embroiled in a public scandal over alleged payments to middlemen to speed up the store-opening process, possibly through payments to local officials.
The SEC was told that Walmart had spent $99-million in nine months towards October on corruption investigations and related lawsuits. It is also cooperating with ongoing Department of Justice and SEC investigations. On the other hand, the Reserve Bank of India is reportedly investigating Walmart for possible violations of foreign investment rules, relating to a $100-million investment in a company-owned by its wholesale joint-venture partner, Bharti Enterprises.
Walmart operates 18 wholesale shops in India through its joint venture. In its future plans Walmart has stated that it planned to open retail stores in India over the next 18 months, but the corruption investigation may slow its aggressive expansion strategy.
It is in light of these new developments, international investigations, CBI action against various members of Parliament and the sudden turn-around of politicians against their stated policy of not allowing FDI in multi-brand retail that make the whole discussion in Parliament and the voting in favour of the government that much more suspicious.