Wednesday, December 5, 2012

FDI in retail ~ voting in Lok Sabha today - What will happen ?


Perhaps the crowned item in India – Samosa, from street corners to big hotels and marriage parties, not complete with this pastry with savoury filling including spiced potato, onion, lentil and something….. more ~ typically in triangular shape.  People love to eat them.  Another one most relished is what we call Bajji made of besan (kadalai maavu in tamil) covering onion, tomato, cauliflower, potato, mirchi and many other vegetables  ~ the recipe of success is simple – deep fried in oil.  From pizza and burgers to  vegetables and many thing else, you can deep fry almost anything.

In a upmarket, the one that will upstage all these is ‘French fries’ – the elongated pieces of potatoes deep-fried, long, thinly cut slices served hot and crisp to eat………….  – eaten alone or as an accompaniment with lunch or dinner ~ they have redefined the way children relish their foodl..  The ubiquitous french fries of MNC Fast food chain McDonald's was whipped up during a fiery debate on FDI in retail in Lok Sabha yesterday with Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj raised sourcing concerns. Swaraj claimed that even McDonald's was importing potatoes from abroad for their fries and not buying the produce locally.  She is quoted as saying - "Ask McDonald's about their fries. They never buy potatoes from local Indian farmers, saying the potatoes are too small here," the BJP leader said while visualising a likely scenario where retail chains would not buy products from small and medium farmers once FDI in multi-brand retail comes in vogue.  McDonald's refuted Swaraj's remarks in that the company does not buy local produce, saying all the ingredients used in its products in India are sourced from within the country.

If you are wondering what this oil is all about ~ it is the debate on FDI in retail which has seen strange bed-partners and allies becoming enemies.  The long awaited and hard-fought battle on retail FDI played itself out on the floor of the house of the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, with eloquent speeches, inflamed passions and many disruptions. The debate is being held under rule 184 that entails a debate with voting provision.  The voting will take place today.

Will it harm the National Interests; is it totally against Swadeshi concept ~ will it do good for the Nation; or is it simply unavoidable in the International market – answers will depend not only on the fact but also on which political party you owe allegiance to…..

Sure it would change the way the local market appears – sure it can post challenge to the very existence of small time seller who is already under the pressure of bigger Indian players. Sure the product would look more attractive and could even be low priced than what they are now !  We have already tuned our minds to a mindset where we haggle with the local vendor ~ be it a old lady or a poor old man for a few paises while not giving a second thought to pay heavily for parking the vehicle in the mall and picking a small packet without caring to know its price and paying through credit card ~ the trendy pack, glossy appearance, great ambience, convenient credit makes us forget to think on primary aspects of whether what is being bought is required and whether the price is justified…………..

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is direct investment into production or business in a country by a company in another country, either by buying a company in the target country or by expanding operations of an existing business in that country.  The oft quoted example is that of International chain Wallmart spreading its web in the country when FDI in retail is allowed.  Battlelines are now clearly drawn in Lok Sabha on Tuesday over entry of retail giants into the country as Congress and BJP squabbled, echoing by-now familiar arguments and accusing each other of taking U-turns.  UPA's outside supporters — BSP and SP— joined the Opposition chorus in condemning FDI in multi-brand retail, but refrained from spelling out their stand on voting on it.

The two parties are expected to abstain from voting, making way for the government to defeat the motion by a comfortable majority in the House. These two parties have provided the much needed confidence for the Congress.   To the opposition, FDI in power, in airlines etc. are welcome but not in selling rice, dal and vegetables. All eyes will be on the Uttar Pradesh parties, the SP and the BSP, that have kept the UPA guessing so far. The Govt remains confident of winning the vote on FDI in both the Houses as there are expectations that  Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) are likely to bail the government out. The real test will be in the Rajya Sabha where any one of the the two UP parties will have to vote with the government to defeat any motion against FDI in multi-brand retail.

From Tamilnadu, the ally of UPA, DMK has  vowed not to rock the boat despite its opposition to the government move on FDI in retail. Its party spokesman is quoted as stating that his party was strongly against FDI but will not vote against the Govt.  For the first time in the history of Rajya Sabha, its chairman and Vice President Hamid Ansari has permitted the other regional party AIADMK  to initiate the FDI in retail discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

Ansari went by the rule book, which directs to permit the first petitioner before him for the FDI in retail discussion, which happened to be the AIADMK's Dr V Maitreyan, who will be now initiating the discussion. The Rajya Sabha practice has been that the initiator of the discussion would also have the rare chance to ask questions to the concerned minister and sum up the discussion. The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh  being the  leader of the Rajya Sabha  will also be present in the House when FDI in retail being initiated and summed up.  As per news after ADMK, CPI (M); CPI, BJP, Telegu Desam, Janata Dal United, Trinamool Congress are to speak on the same.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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