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Friday, November 23, 2012

Left demand Discuss FDI in Retail under Rules That Entail Voting

THIS forthcoming winter session of the parliament comes in the background of growing political uncertainties. The much publicised major cabinet reshuffle did not evoke any sense of confidence that the UPA-2 government is determined to tackle the major issues confronting our peoples’ livelihoods. Allegations of corruption and scams continue to rock the coalition leader, the Congress party. The coalition itself is precariously placed, with the ally from Bengal having withdrawn and the ally from the South virtually sulking and refusing to join in the cabinet reshuffle.

Its majority in the Lok Sabha now depends on the outside support of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. On the other hand, the principal opposition party appears to be in a disarray with its president itself continuing in office becoming increasingly untenable in the face of alleged corruption charges. How these uncertainties will unfold will determine whether this session can hold the government accountable for its acts of omission and commission and force it to take tangible measures to provide relief measures to the people.

The intersession period since the last washed out monsoon session of parliament saw widespread protests against the government’s decision to permit FDI in multi-brand retail sector.  On an earlier occasion, during the budget session, the then finance minister, who is now the president of India,  had assured the parliament that the government will operationalise this decision only after wide ranging consultations with all the stakeholders and try to build a consensus. The government, however, betraying its own assurances to parliament, has decided to unilaterally proceed with the implementation of this decision.

This was met with widespread protests by a cross section of political parties.  The call for a ‘national hartal’ given by the Left parties along with the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam, the Janata Dal (S) and the Biju Janata Dal was received with enthusiasm by the  people across the country.  In Delhi, the leaders of all these eight parties courted arrest protesting against this decision.  Simultaneously, on the same day, September 20, the All India Federation of Retail Trade Associations had given a call for a ‘Bharat bandh’.  An important UPA ally from the South, DMK, openly announced its opposition to this move.  So did the AIADMK as well.  Numerically, the strength of all these parties put together constitutes a majority in both the houses of parliament.

It is under these circumstances that the CPI(M) leaders in both the houses of parliament served notices, under rules that entail voting, for a motion disapproving this decision of the government.  Forcing the government to accept such a discussion, under the relevant rules, and deciding to a vote would have decisively frustrated the government’s efforts to allow FDI to prise open our markets and access our resources for its profits at the expense of our people.  This strategy would have effectively cornered this UPA-2 government and prevented it from going ahead with such anti-people reforms.

As opposed to this strategy, some political parties, particularly the UPA-2’s now estranged ally, the Trinamool Congress, has floated the idea of moving a no-confidence motion against the government. Now, a no-confidence motion is not an issue-specific motion.  Usually, such motions are considered when sufficient members in the Lok Sabha, belonging to various opposition parties, can be mustered to ensure the possibility of carrying this motion.  In the event that the no-confidence motion is unable to be carried in the Lok Sabha, then the government gets not only a reprieve but also the opportunity to interpret this vote as an endorsement of all its policies and its governance.  Contrary to the requirement of preventing the government from carrying forward anti-people measures, the government would be provided with the opportunity to impose further such measures invoking the Lok Sabha’s endorsement as its legitimity.

In the current scenario, when both the SP and the BSP continue with their outside support to the government, the prospects of carrying the no-confidence motion is very remote.  Moving any such motion in the present context is to provide an escape route to the government, instead of making it accountable to the parliament and people. The tactics adopted by the Trinamool Congress, thus, serve the interests of not only saving this government but to provide it with a legitimacy to carry forward such anti-people neo-liberal economic reforms. The Trinamool Congress will, thus, be acting as the B-team of the Congress.

The Congress party, on its part, is preparing to prevent any discussion in the parliament under rules that entail voting.  The union commerce minister has claimed that executive decisions of the government have never been subjected to parliamentary discussions under rules that entail voting.  When it was pointed out that on the March 1, 2001, under the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, a motion moved by then CPI(M) MP, Rupchand Pal, disapproving the proposed disinvestment of Bharat Aluminium Co. Ltd. (Balco) was admitted and discussed and voted upon under a rule that entailed voting, the parliamentary affairs minister is seeking to negate any such precedent by stating that the Balco disinvestment was a ‘stand alone’ issue and not a policy decided by the union cabinet!

This is a very strange logic, indeed.  The Congress party had, on that occasion, supported the CPI(M) motion which was defeated by 239 votes against 154.  Leading the Congress support to the CPI(M) motion, Priyaranjan Das Munshi, in that debate said, “Disinvestment and privatisation are two different things.  If the equity participation of a management is 51 per cent, it is not disinvestment, it is total privatisation”. Clearly, the Congress then was talking about the NDA’s policy of privatisation as opposed to a ‘stand alone’ case of disinvestment.  These are the facts.  The Congress party cannot rely on falsification now to deny the parliament its right to discuss and vote upon such an issue as FDI in retail trade which has a vital bearing on the livelihood of at least a fifth of our country’s population.

Further, a public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court on this issue of FDI in retail trade.  It is only after the apex court’s intervention that the RBI issued a notification amending the regulations to permit FDI in multi-brand retail trade. This has been gazetted on October 30. The court further stated that there is no reason to fear that the government will not place these amendments in parliament. Hence, it further opined that since the parliament session is to begin, this appeal should wait for its decision on the matter.  Similarly, at the time of Balco disinvestment, the Delhi High Court also reposed their faith on the parliament while dealing with the writ petition, then.

In this connection, Priyaranjan Das Munshi said, “Both the judges reposed their faith on the parliament. They said that since the matter is in parliament, let them complete the session, then we will react. This is the respect shown by the judiciary to parliament. How parliament should react?  Should we fight for discussion under Rule 184 and 193?  Should we be swayed by the jugglery of Arun Jaitley, linking the Balco deal with the world economy and with the revival of all sick units? I think the parliament in its traditional morality should stand and respond that we reject this deal and we demand a JPC.  It is not a matter of politics between the Congress and the NDA; and between CPI(M) and the NDA. It is not a matter to score points with the NDA partners. It is a matter of parliament’s own wisdom before the nation. How should we react to this situation?”

It is in this very same spirit that the government should agree for a discussion under rules that entail voting and let the parliament decide on this matter.  In the final analysis, the ultimate sovereignty under our constitution rests with the people of India and this is exercised by their elected representatives in the parliament.  The sanctity of our constitutional scheme of things cannot be allowed to be undermined.
(November 21, 2012

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