FDI debate

Is it an act of political opportunism?

Anil Anand
Publish Date: Dec 11 2012 12:00PM

The term Foreign Direct Investment or FDI as its abbreviation has come to be popularly known in India has acquired monstrous dimensions thanks to the lopsided political debate centred round the issue.  The parliamentary debate on the FDI-in-retail proposal that attracted the country’s attention over the past few days not only confirmed these doubts but has left the nation confused and bewildered so far as the utility or futility of FDI is concerned.
Is it really monstrous? Is it anti-national or an invitation to the East India Company like syndrome? There is no harm in raising such queries and the government is bound to clear the doubts. But the manner in which the entire debate took place, led one to believe that it was more of an exercise in political brinkmanship and setting future electoral agenda by the political parties and players rather than serving any real purpose.
It is imperative for any Government to take the nation into confidence about the pros and cons of any policy that has direct bearing on the existence of the common man. The FDI-in-retail is one such contentious issue which is quite technical in nature and needed better explanation for people’s understanding. The fact is that total ignorance prevails about the issue across the country and barring some experts or TV debaters, the man on the street for whose purported well-being the measure is being adopted, if the UPA Government is to be believed, is blissfully ignorant about the very concept of the FDI.
Question arises on how to create this awareness and whether the Government of the day or constituents of the ruling UPA took enough measures in this direction? It does not seem to be so. It is a proven formula that the Government’s policies and programmes are converted into a public discourse through the political arms. Unfortunately, the UPA Government, from all available indications, was waging a lone battle as nothing worthwhile in the name of creating public awareness was done by its main constituent the Congress. Leave alone the lesser allies.
The Congress’ role was confined to some last minute patch-work in preparation for the Parliamentary debate. Although being in the ruling party the Congress has the right to express fears on certain policies of the Government and seek clarifications on that. But it was also incumbent upon them to have launched a genuine awareness campaign to build an atmosphere before getting the requisite legislation passed in the Parliament.
As the country is slipping into a poll mode, it is naive to expect the Opposition led by the BJP to have approached the issue in a positive frame of mind. This is despite the fact that many of the economic reforms including permitting FDI in various sectors were also taken up by the BJP-led NDA Government also. The cardinal principle that though the ruling parties may come and go the successive Governments function in continuity was amply followed by the Vajpayee Government as it had picked up from where the Congress Government headed by Mr P V Narsimha Rao with the present PM Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister, had left.
No one ever expects the Opposition to fully concur with the Government of the day. But on the matters of national interest there is always need to explore some common ground. Outrightly endorsing the FDI-in-retail or rejecting it in one-go is not the proper approach. Unfortunately both the Government and the Opposition preferred to follow this policy rather than exploring the possibility of finding some common ground. The result was that the adversarial politics overshadowed the national interests. 
The result was visible in the Parliament debate on the issue. It was about everything else but the FDI-in-retail proposal per se. On either side of the political spectrum the speakers spent energy and lung power to score political brownie points and concentrated less on explaining the concept under discussion.
All through the debate one could only experience the two extreme view-points. Such a debate should not be viewed in terms of victory or loss for a specific group or a political party. At the end of the day the Government had its way and the Opposition managed to put the Treasury benches on the mat fully exploiting the facility of round the clock media coverage. But the common man remained to be the loser.
Did this debate really educate the ‘aam adami’ about the nitty-gritty of the FDI-in-retail? Unfortunately, the answer is no. A glorious opportunity was lost to inform the people about what the issue entails and what good or bad it could do to the nation. What better forum than Parliament itself to attract people’s attention towards issues of vital national interest.
The entire effort both on the part of the Government and the Opposition boiled down to either getting the legislation passed or ensure it is stalled. The numbers game and the mathematical calculations dominated the discourse for which both the sides should share the blame.
The quest for numbers also led to certain perversions creeping in. Some may view it in the light of domineering attitude of BSP supremo Ms Mayawati to have declared her intent in advance to vote in favour of the propsal in Rajya Sabha. But on the flip side it conveyed a strong sense of political opportunism. So was the case of Samajwadi Party chief Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav as he announced in advance to walk-out at the time of voting to indirectly help the Government.
The politics of the Parliamentary vote should also give some reason for introspection to the BJP also. It needs to have a rethink on its hardcore political beliefs that could pave the way for the saffron party’s wider acceptability. In such an event they could have visualised the BSP and the Samajwadi Party making a common cause with them on the FDI vote issue.
After all both the parties conveniently used the argument of BJP’ communal policies as an escape route to side with the Treasury benches at the time of voting. The BJP will never be able to capitalise on the UPA government’s failure on governance front if it doesn’t position itself more towards the middle ground.
There are no easy answers to BJP’s dilemma. But there is some scope for introspection. The anniversary of Babri Mosque demolition came and went unnoticed. Knowingly or unknowingly, no hullaballoo was created by the party to “celebrate” the occasion. Ostensibly, the party leadership had the FDI voting in mind and flicker of a hope that a low key reaction to December 6, 1992 happening might endear it to the SP and the BSP.
But that was not to be. The best way out for the BJP is to follow the middle ground to make it more relevant in the national politics while maintaining some kind of a truck with its core values. It is a tightrope walk. But then there is no other way if it wishes to replace the UPA at the Centre.