M A I N   N E W S

PM refuses to blink on FDI
Says decision not taken in haste, states free to accept or reject it
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, November 29
Having set the political agenda with the decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail trade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today brushed aside demands for a rollback, asserting the policy will actually benefit farmers, small retailers and the country.

The Prime Minister articulated his views on the controversial subject in his address at a Youth Congress convention today in the presence of party president Sonia Gandhi, who was, however, silent on the government’s decision in her speech although she did praise the PM for the manner in which he has steered the ruling coalition.

In her first public appearance post-surgery, Sonia Gandhi reiterated the government’s commitment to eradicating corruption and hoped the Opposition will cooperate in the passage of anti-graft legislations, including the Lokpal Bill.

Breaking his silence on the issue which has invited the wrath of a combined opposition and a section of UPA allies and derailed Parliament, a determined Prime Minister explained that the decision to allow FDI in retail was taken after a lot of consideration and that state governments were free to accept or reject it.

“ I would like to mention today of the government’s decision permitting foreign direct investment in retail. We have not taken this decision in a hurry but after a lot of consideration,” the Prime Minister said,adding that it is the government’s firm conviction that the decision will benefit the country. It will create jobs, benefit consumers, improve renumeration for farmers and enable import of technology, he said.

While Sonia Gandhi’s silence on the government’s move did raise some doubts among party cadres, Congress insiders maintained the government’s move had her full backing. It is only after the policy was endorsed by the Congress core group, headed by Sonia Gandhi, at last night’s emergency meeting that an emboldened government went out to defend its decision.

While ruling out a U-turn on its declared policy, Congress ministers said the government had eventually succeeded in seizing the political initiative after fending off accusations of corruption and governance deficit. “After a long time, we have got a chance to set the political agenda.... for a change, it is the opposition which is reacting to our decisions.

Why should we loose this opportunity,” remarked a senior Congress minister.

Justifying the government’s decision, PM Singh said the differential between the wholesale and retail prices will reduce and consumers will get commodities at lower prices. Referring to the opposition’s argument that the policy will hurt small business, the Prime Minister pointed out that the government has put conditions to ensure that FDI in retail promotes small industry. With several opposition-ruled states rejecting the policy, the PM said , the Centre will not impose this decision on anyone. “State governments that are not convinced of its usefulness can prevent foreign investment in their states,” he underlined.

Referring to the ongoing impasse in Parliament, the Prime Minister said the government wants to enact several new legislations as part of its efforts to push reforms but the opposition parties are not allowing the Centre to move ahead. Disruption of Parliamentary proceedings, he said, amounted to doing “injustice” with those who have elected MPs and lowered the country’s image.





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