BJP releases 2002 letter in which Manmohan Singh had opposed FDI

New Delhi: In attack mode, the BJP has now resurrected a 2002 letter written by Manmohan Singh that it says suggests that the Prime Minister, who risked his government’s survival last week to allow Foreign Direct Investment in retail, was against such a move when he sat in the opposition.

In the letter – which has been used by the BJP before and even by Mamata Banerjee recently to bolster their argument against FDI in retail – Dr Singh, who was then the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, wrote to the chairman of a Mumbai-based trade body on December 21, 2002, saying that the issue of FDI in retail had been raised in the Upper House two days before and that “The finance minister gave an assurance that the government had no proposal to invite FDI in retail trade.” The BJP-led NDA ruled at the Centre then.

Today, the BJP, now the main Opposition party, released a copy of the letter at Surajkund near Delhi where 300 top party leaders are meeting to finalise the party’s political strategy for Assembly elections in three states to be held in a few months and to build a counter to the Congress’ “reforms are here” agenda. The decision to allow foreign mega-stores to come into the retail sector in India was part of a number of key decisions the government made earlier this month; it has defended them as necessary to reinvigorate a flagging economy.

The BJP brandishes this 2002 letter to contend that the Congress’ stand then endorsed the BJP’s line on the matter and has since changed. The party has also dug up another letter – this one written by the Federation of Associations of Maharashtra to Dr Singh in December 2004, by which time he was PM. In this letter, the Federation reminded the PM that he had categorically told a delegation of traders that “we should not permit FDI in retail trade… India does not require the kind of reforms which would, rather than creating employment, destroy employment”.

On Day 2 of the BJP’s national executive meeting today, former party president Venkaiah Naidu hit out at the government’s recent reform moves; he said the FDI policy was “bad when the Congress was not in power and good when the Congress was in power.”

Two days ago, Mamata Banerjee, who stormed out of the UPA last week in protest against the government’s recent reforms, posted the two letters on Facebook with the same intent – to underline that Dr Singh had rejected FDI in retail when he was in the opposition. Ms Banerjee’s smirk was implicit as she wondered on Facebook, “Is it not becoming clear that use of the name of Aam Aadmi, and misuse of power of chair, is to finish Aam Aadmi? Is it the game plan ! ! !”

In a televised address to the nation last week, on the day Ms Banerjee pulled out of his government, plunging it into a minority, the PM asserted that the move to allow FDI in retail would in fact benefit farmers and the common man or the aam aadmi.

Earlier this morning, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari said his party would focus on forcing the government to withdraw the decision. Mr Gadkari also said that the BJP would try and bring all parties together on this issue, making clear that this did not mean that the BJP was against reforms.

Ahead of the BJP meet, party general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad had told NDTV that the party will finalise its campaign against the government’s decision to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. “As far as FDI is concerned, we are proud of our record of reforms. But every policy change is not reform. And if a norm of reform, dictated from the West and picked up by the pink paper, as the only panacea for India’s ills, then sorry, it is not acceptable to us,” said Mr Prasad. He had also hinted that if the BJP came back to power, it will cancel the UPA’s FDI policy.

The Congress has hit back at the BJP with the same charge – it says that the Opposition party had supported FDI in retail when it was in government and is now indulging in doublespeak. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said yesterday, “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.”

Yesterday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi intervened in a debate on foreign direct investment in retail during the meeting to suggest that his party take the issue to the village level and offered a systematic plan to negate the Congress’ “reforms are back” campaign. He suggested that the party hold more than 5000 public meetings across the country to highlight the BJP’s objections, 10 in each Lok Sabha constituency. The Gujarat Chief Minister also suggested the BJP emphasise to traders and farmers that the Centre’s decision to allow big foreign chains like Wal-Mart to set up shop would affect them adversely.

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