A joke of a vote

With the debate over whether India should allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail over and the Opposition's resolution against this policy defeated in both Houses of Parliament, the Government has jubilantly declared that “reforms are back on track”. PM Manmohan Singh and his loudmouth colleagues, among them a boastful fool who has offered to grow potatoes which are 24 inches long (his words, not mine) for American firms, need to be reminded that the sudden enthusiasm to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail has little or nothing to do with reforms.

Nor will it mean a flood of foreign direct investment that will wash away the Congress-led UPA government’s lassitude over economic issues for the past nine years. Indeed, opening our doors to Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour is as much a game-changer for our increasingly dreary lives as we rapidly slip back to the days of Congress-style socialism when coping with shortages and making the rupee stretch beyond hundred paise were the twin challenges of wage-earners, as was signing the India-US nuclear deal. India still awaits the promised ‘nuclear bijli’ without which, we were told, our collective future was doomed.

Change of mind: The Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, walked out before the vote on FDI in multi-brand retail in the Rajya Sabha yesterday

All that and more about this week’s debate and the vote won by the Treasury benches is so much bunk; it need not detain us. What should really bother those who still believe in the parliamentary system of governance and see the Parliament as the temple of our democracy is the manner in which the Government manipulated the vote in its favour. Parliament stands defiled and desecrated, though not for the first time.

The government would have failed to defeat the Opposition’s resolution had the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati, not performed some strange summersaults. Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke vehemently against FDI in multi-brand retail, waxed eloquent on the impending plight of small store owners, traders and farmers, reiterated his faith in socialism, castigated capitalism, taunted big businesses, and then walked out, along with his party MPs, from the Lok Sabha. Later, he told newspersons that he walked out, instead of voting against the government, because he is “opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail”.

Like docile and faithful poodles, newspapers and news channels reported his statement without bothering to point out that it does not make sense. The newspersons in that scrum were clearly too delighted, as were their editors, that Mulayam Singh Yadav had bailed out the government to ask him why he didn’t vote against the government if he was opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail. Such are the ethics of our journalists today; such are the scruples of the politicians they place on a pedestal.

It was a repeat performance in the Rajya Sabha: The SP members walked out before the vote. If there was a variation, it was in the BSP members walking out before the vote in the Lok Sabha and robustly voting against the Opposition’s motion in the Rajya Sabha. Mayawati says her party acted as it did to “fight communal forces”. That’s a strange explanation, not in the least because allowing or disallowing FDI in multi-brand retail is an entirely secular economic issue.

It is clear to everybody that the Congress worked on both Mulayam and Mayawati to secure their strategic support. It is equally clear that both the politicians fell in line when reminded about the corruption cases pending against them. That’s how it has worked with Mulayam and Mayawati earlier too. What this says about the Congress and the parties it manages to arm-twist with such ease is self-evident and does not merit elaboration.

What is distressing is that both Mulayam and Mayawati have acted as they did because they know that such ethical transgressions do not bother their core supporters. Have voters in India’s most populous State, which elects the largest number of Members of Parliament and thus decides the destiny of the nation in more ways than one, become so cynical that Parliament has ceased to matter to them? Has caste-based identity wiped out the other identity — of being an Indian, and a responsible citizen?

This is not about being in favour of or against FDI in multi-brand retail. It is about political morality and parliamentary ethics. We could argue that politics is by nature amoral, but that would be neither here nor there. By thumbing their noses together, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati have shown the scorn and contempt in which they hold the blind men and women of Hindoostan who vote for SP and BSP, thereby keeping charlatans in positions where they can abuse their power with impunity. 

The writer is a journalist, political analyst & activist

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