Dark Clouds over UPA

There is not much time left, and the mobilization of support by the Trinamool Congress chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee for the no-confidence motion her party plans to move against the UPA government on the very first day of the winter session of Parliament is still not adequate.

To introduce a no-confidence motion, a party needs the support of at least 50 MPs, and the Trinamool Congress has only 18. Her party withdrew support to the UPA government seven weeks ago after it refused to roll back the policy announcement approving 51 per cent FDI in multibrand retail.

On the face of it, the UPA government does not seem to face a real danger of being voted out. Congress has struck deals with the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Taking a public posture that they were helping Congress not to let ‘communal forces’ make gains, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ms Mayawati were in reality deriving private gain through help from Congress for soft handling of the CBI cases against them. The SP and BSP have 22 Lok Sabha MPs and 21 MPs, respectively, making a total of 43, which is quite a significant number. Ms Banerjee is not expecting their support, despite the fact that SP has reservations on FDI in multibrand retail.

Ms Banerji is pinning hopes on her bitter political rivals for support, the communist parties and BJP. Even though the Left Front has strongly opposed FDI in multibrand retail, their initial response was that it would rather not strengthen Trinamool Congress by supporting the motion. They also felt she should have consulted them before making the announcement. The BJP’s stance is still not clear. So, Ms Banerjee’s proposed no-confidence motion is set to face a key test at its admission stage in Lok Sabha with a large section of the opposition still undecided on the issue.

However, dark clouds still hover over UPA. If its survival depends on SP and BSP, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ms Mayawati have not said anything in their support openly. And the Left Front, even though in opposition to Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, would not want a no-confidence motion fail in voting as it would also be seen as an endorsement of UPA’s pro-FDI policy. The CPI(M) has already moved a resolution on FDI in Parliament. On Tuesday, BJP’s key leaders will meet ahead of an NDA meeting to firm up the alliance’s line on the issue. Much like the Left Front, the BJP holds the line: "Why should we be seen as opposing the motion, when we are opposed to FDI in multibrand retail?" In fact, BJP leader, Mr Balbir Punj said his party welcomed TMC’s proposed motion. The Shiromani Akali Dal has announced support to Trinamool Congress motion. The Biju Janata Dal, which has 14 MPs, has taken this stand: "We will wait to see what the BJP and the Left decides. But if the situation arises, we will certainly vote against the government."

The fear and agitation in UPA is evident. And all fire is obviously directed at Ms Banerjee. The Union Commerce Minister, Mr Anand Sharma has hit out at her plans to "drag" the decision on FDI to Parliament, accusing her of creating "shrill discourse" and "sensationalism" over the last few years, which have caused "enormous damage to India’s image" among foreign investors. Mr Sharma followed it up with a bravado: "There will be no going back on allowing 51% FDI in multi-brand retail as it is a ‘decision cast in stone’ and said the government is ready to face any challenge in Parliament... A government cannot be expected to have vetting of its policy and endorsement of executive decisions either by ideological opponents, some of whom have blinkers on or those who have partisan agenda…The government is confident of demonstrating its majority in Parliament and facing any challenge and continuing with its good work."

The UPA is trying to show that Ms Banerjee’s no-confidence motion in the government is "irrational" by arguing that the approval of 51% FDI in multibrand retail was a decision "which is in executive domain which requires no legislative approval." Ms Banerjee is trying to drag an executive decision into Parliament motions, something which has never been done in the history of Indian parliamentary democracy.

The Congress knows that that may not amount to more than technical hair-splitting. The reality is that Ms Banerjee’s proposed motion is threatening to assemble all the parties in opposition who have expressed strong disapproval of the FDI in multibrand retail policy, and even to force Congress allies within and without UPA to think twice before being seen supporting a government that seeks to enforce FDI in multibrand retail, a policy that is bound to take away the livelihood of tens of thousands of small traders across the country.