Did BJP overplay its hand on FDI?

It has been attacking the government on corruption and price rise but questions are now being raised whether the BJP conceded political momentum to the Congress-led UPA government after the opposition-led motion against FDI in multibrand retail failed. Did the party overplay its hand by forcing a vote?

Analysts say there was no immediate gain for the BJP and any benefit in the long-term was also uncertain.

The motion against foreign direct investment in multibrand retail was negatived in both houses of parliament earlier this week after Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) helped the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The BJP had been insistent on a discussion on FDI in multibrand retail with voting rules as it smelt a chance to embarrass the government. The party's other ostensible aim was to expose the SP and the BSP on their "double standards" to improve its prospects in Uttar Pradesh. But it failed on both counts, experts said.

Senior journalist S. Nihal Singh said the BJP had overplayed its hand on FDI in multibrand retail and should not have opted for a vote.

"The BJP really overplayed its hand. It is alright to make noise on an evocative issue...the party made it into a big political fight. The government was able to cover its flanks with help of BSP and SP," Nihal Singh told IANS.

He said the BJP was unlikely to dent either the SP's or BSP's image in Uttar Pradesh over their stance on FDI as people tend to forget quickly.

"Frankly, the capacity of skulldudgery of Uttar Pradesh politics is amazing," Nihal Singh said.

Subrata Mukherjee, a former professor at Delhi University, echoed this view.

As for the expectation of BJP leaders to make political dividends in Uttar Pradesh, Mukherjee said that economic issues do not have much of an impact in the state with polarised politics.

"They (BJP) should have adopted a more constructive approach by suggesting corrective measures to the FDI policy," he added.

The BJP disagrees.

BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the government managed to win the vote though a vast majority of members spoke against FDI in multibrand retail.

"This is clear cut case of something fishy and, may be, they won with fund management. I don't think the sense of house was for FDI...The interest of foreigners won over interest of Indians. What is the government happy about," Naqvi wondered while speaking to IANS.

He said the BJP will go to the people on the issue and expose SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh for their conflicting stance on FDI in multibrand retail.

"The SP and BSP fight in Uttar Pradesh and are united in Delhi (in bailing out the Congress). We will go to people against their duplicity," Naqvi said.

The opposition's defeat in the FDI vote came days before polling in Gujarat assembly elections. Assembly elections are due in several key states next year in which BJP and Congress are the main rivals. The Lok Sabha polls are due in 2014.

The opposition-sponsored motion against FDI in multibrand retail was negatived in the Lok Sabha Wednesday by 35 votes and in the Rajya Sabha Friday by 21 votes.

A.S. Narang, a former professor at IGNOU, said the BJP was unlikely to make any immediate gains from its opposition to FDI in multibrand retail even though the government appeared to have won the vote due to "management".

"They (the BJP) seem to have overplayed their hand... There will be no immediate gain," Narang said.

He said the decision to demand a vote may also be a tactic to shift the focus from BJP's internal troubles following demands for removal of party president Nitin Gadkari for irregular business deals.

"It could also be a diversion from its internal politics," Narang said.

He said sections of urban middle class were in favour of FDI in retail and there was no certainity if BJP's opposition will benefit the party electorally.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Nilotpal Basu, however said the economic policy will not benefit the country in the long run and justified the opposition move to block the policy that aims to bring multi-national brands like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco into Indian cities.

"We wanted to stop this policy...the government completely lost the debate. It was not able to counter the points raised by the opposition parties," he said.

Emboldened by winning the approval of parliament, the Manmohan Singh government now aims to move ahead with its economic reforms.

"We will proceed on the commitments made by the government. We will try to evolve consensus but will not be cowed down by opposition," Alvi said.

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