"The BJP is opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail. It is not in the interest of farmers and small retailers," BJP's chief spokesman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said at a meeting of the party's national executive, adding, "When we come to power, the consequences will follow."
Asked if BJP would undo the government's decision or scale down the cap, Prasad said, "Wait for our manifesto...51% or no per cent."
Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma reacted sharply at a late evening presser, cautioning the main Opposition that no government could arbitrarily reverse such decisions without inviting legal repercussions. "They cannot legally reverse a decision. We have signed bilateral investment protection pacts with a large number of countries which will all get invoked," Sharma said, "I am appalled at what they are trying to do. They want to confuse and scare away investors."
The minister also said, "Those who will come and invest in India will be doing so in response to extant policy of the Republic of India. Policymaking is the prerogative of the elected government of the day. Investors will come after proper FIPB scrutiny."
Sharma's comments came just hours after BJP for the first time dropped a broad hint that it may review Congress-led UPA's major policy initiative it has been opposing strongly.
Retailers Stay Mum
BJP has, however, maintained all along that it would not allow global supermarkets in states where it was in power. The minister recalled that the Opposition party had supported FDI in the sector when it was in government. "The BJP-led NDA government had prepared a Cabinet note allowing FDI in multi-brand retail when it was in power. They are engaging in the worst kind of doublespeak and double standards," Sharma said.
Prasad, however, said BJP may not stick to its earlier promise of 26% FDI in the sector. "That was 2004. It is eight years old," he said.
Retailers refused to be drawn into the spat. "I have not heard or read the statement, so I am unable to make any comment," said Bharti Walmart MD and CEO Raj Jain.
Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani refused to comment on politics.
Earlier, the BJP spokesman also rejected claims that there were differences within NDA on the issue. Prasad claimed that BJP and Akali Dal, which was reportedly in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail, were on the same page on the issue. He said he had met Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, and that the two parties were one on the issue.
Badal had said Akali Dal was opposed to the way the reform had been brought in. He said he had written to the Centre welcoming the decision on FDI but added that the government should have taken the stockholders into confidence. The prime minister should not usher in reforms just because Walmart wants it, he said.
However, BJP claimed that Akali Dal had only said the issue should be discussed with farmers.
Sharma, on his part, branded Akali Dal's latest statements as political posturing and said he had both written and spoken to Badal. "Even two days before the Cabinet was to take a decision, I spoke to Mr Badal," he said. At BJP's meet, party president Nitin Gadkari also asked party cadres to get ready for the polls.
"The country is on the verge of change. Elections can happen any time," he said. Describing UPA as a sinking ship, he said, "People are disillusioned. The aam aadmi (average citizen) is reeling under the impact of price rise, corruption, arrogance and gross indifference."
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