The curious progression of the FDI-in-retail crisis suggests that beyond the merits or demerits of policy there might be at work covert conspiracy of a high order. There could be a confluence of interests between Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. LK Advani. It suits both if Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is dethroned while the UPA government may continue. There may not be of course any direct link between Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Advani. But after Mr. Advani’s generous though entirely unnecessary public apology to Mrs. Gandhi regarding her alleged foreign bank account, surely both leaders must understand each other very well.
Mr. Advani is rigid about a vote after an adjournment motion in parliament to discuss the FDI-in-retail issue. The PM is desperately trying to avoid a vote. Before parliament re-assembles in the middle of next week every effort is being made by the PM’s loyalists to ensure that the government can muster the numbers if a vote becomes unavoidable. Mr. Advani is insistent about either an outright rollback of the FDI-in-retail decision or a debate with a vote.
Mr. Advani does not seek a no-confidence motion. If the government is defeated in a vote after an adjournment motion it need not resign. It has to quit if outvoted on either a money bill or a confidence vote. However, the PM’s continuance after being outvoted even in an adjournment motion would become untenable. He is personally too strongly committed to FDI-in-retail. If the FDI-in-retail decision is rolled back or the government is outvoted in parliament on the issue the setback would be too great for him to continue in office. The UPA would have to replace him by some other incumbent.
There is a murmuring of opposition against FDI-in-retail within the Congress. A few leaders have openly expressed their opposition. Would they have dared done this without clear appreciation of what would please Mrs. Gandhi? At least two of the allies known to be very close to Mrs. Gandhi are keeping the government on tenterhooks. If they do not vote against the government they could abstain. Mr. Karunanidhi and Miss Mamata Bannerjee have already publicly disapproved FDI-in-retail. Both are being strenuously wooed before parliament reopens. After meeting the PM Trinamool leader Mr. Sudip Bandopadhya said: “We don’t want this government falling down. We want this decision to be withdrawn.” That’s what all MPs want. But would they mind if the PM is changed? The numbers game continues to remain dicey for the PM.
If Dr. Manmohan Singh has to quit the path would be cleared for Mr. Rahul Gandhi to succeed him. He may be reluctant to accept the job. But could he resist the overwhelming pressure that inevitably will be exerted in his favour by his party men? Mr. Advani must know that he can only fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming PM if there is a mid-term poll. Advancing age precludes his chances after 2014. If there is a change of guard in the UPA government all kinds of possibilities could open up. The chances of a mid-term poll could arise. The next few days could be critical. It remains to be seen where the FDI-in-retail crisis finally takes us.