Heat on FDI grows as government puts decision in cold

New Delhi : Opposition parties Monday stuck to their guns calling for a complete roll-back of the decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail even after the government informed them it has been put on hold pending a political consensus.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke with Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Left leader Sitaram Yechury to convey the government’s decision to put the major reform policy in abeyance.

But the reaching out to opposition leaders failed to break the ice. Nearly half of the winter session has been lost due to protests and slogan shouting by opposition over various issues, including on FDI.

An all-party meeting to discuss the contentious issue would be held “soon”, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told NDTV news channel.

Mukherjee, according to sources, was told by the opposition leaders that they want a complete rollback of the policy, and not just its suspension.

The sources said the key Congress troubleshooter assured them the government would consult opposition parties and also various stakeholders before taking a final decision on allowing FDI in Indian retail market.

He also requested them to let parliament run because some of the crucial legislations, including the anti-graft Lokpal bill, were to be passed in the session that ends Dec 22.

Sushma Swaraj confirmed she spoke to Mukherjee. “He called me. I told him either roll back the FDI decision or have a debate under an adjournment motion,” the BJP leader told reporters in Indore.

Yechury also confirmed he talked with Mukherjee.

“He (Mukherjee) said they want the parliament to continue and I replied that we always wanted parliament to continue,” Yechury said.

The sources said Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in the Rajya Sabha, “reiterated that the government should call an all-party meet on the issue” to clarify its stand.

Speaking to reporters, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said Mukherjee spoke to both Sushma Swaraj and Advani.

“We are not in favour of FDI in retail. We want the government to clear their position. Both the leaders conveyed to Pranab babu that they wanted a rollback of the FDI,” Prasad added.

He also said Mukherjee told them that he “will talk to the prime minister (Manmohan Singh) and revert” on a possible all-party meeting over the issue.

At the heart of the controversy is a Nov 25 cabinet decision of allowing 51 percent foreign ownership of multi-brand retail stores and 100 percent in single brand outlets.

The opposition and key Congress allies, the DMK and the Trinamool Congress, say the decision would hurt millions of farmers and small traders of India by allowing international super-chains like Wal-Mart and Tesco to set up their shops in the country.

Giving in to the opposition, the government Saturday informed Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister and a bitter critic of the policy, that it would put the decision on hold, pending consensus.

The surrender by the government is being seen as a set-back to Manmohan Singh’s first major reform decision since he regained power in 2009.

But Law Minister Salman Khurshid dismissed the notion that it was a setback to the government.

“Not at all,” Khurshid said, adding “not everything you want to do gets done in the time frame you want it”.

He said the BJP was “indulging in hypocrisy” by opposing what they wanted to do earlier.

Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told reporters that the party was “open minded” over the issue and any formal announcement regarding it would be made in parliament.

She accused the BJP of having “double standards” over the FDI in retail, referring to the opposition party’s 2004 election manifesto in which it had promised to get foreign equity to boost Indian retailing.

Parliament will resume Wednesday after an extended weekend of four days. But there was no clear signal of an end to the deadlock Monday evening.

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