In a major boost to the ruling UPA, ally Bahujan Samaj Party on Thursday assured its support to the government on the FDI issue, giving it more numbers during voting in the upper house, where it lacks a majority.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance hopes that with BSP's 15 members now in its kitty, it would be able to persuade Samajwadi Party, with nine MPs, to abstain from voting - as it did in the Lok Sabha Wednesday. The two regional parties prop the UPA from outside.
The government Wednesday won the vote on allowing 51 percent foreign investment in multi-brand retail in the lower house after the BSP and SP walked out just ahead of the voting.
Speaking on the debate in the Rajya Sabha, BSP chief Mayawati said: "We will support the government tomorrow (Friday)," bringing much relief to the Congress, which had been involved in hectic back channel negotiations to muster the numbers.
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, making a strong case for FDI, said it was a "national imperative". "There are moments in the life of a nation when certain decisions have to be taken at a particular period of time. We should rise above partisan politics. This policy will determine the future of India."
The opposition led a strong attack on the Manmohan Singh-led government's move to usher in economic reforms by allowing foreign multi nationals like Wal-Mart and Tesco.
BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said bringing in FDI would create "sales boys and sales girls". Hitting out against the UPA's Lok Sabha win, he said the figure of 254 "can't be seen as a win. When you are 18 short of majority, you cannot run the government as you please. After that Lok Sabha figure, you are a lame duck government."
Friday's voting is likely to see a close fight between the UPA and the BJP-led opposition.
In the 244-member house, the halfway mark is 123. The UPA strength is 89. With the BSP's 15 members, its numbers will climb to 104. With the support of smaller parties, including Rashtriya Janata Dal, it will get six more votes, taking the tally to 110.
If the SP with its nine members walks out, or abstains from voting, the strength of members present and voting in the house will come down to 235. The halfway mark will then be 118.
On the other hand, the BJP and its main allies including Janata Dal-United, together have 65 votes. With the Left's 14 members, and the Trinamool Congress' nine siding with it, the number will total 88.
Other parties against FDI include: Biju Janata Dal (7), Asom Gana Parishad (2), AIADMK (5), and Telugu Desam Party (5), which together take the opposition tally to 107 -- just three short of the government tally of 110.
Of the 10 nominated members, three including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, may not be present due to personal reasons. If the remaining seven go with the government, the UPA tally will be 121, just two short of the half-way mark.
The Rajya Sabha saw eight hours of intense debate, with the DMK and NCP clearly spelling out their support for the government, though the southern party made it clear that it was against bringing in multi nationals into the country.
"We are relieved (after Mayawati's announcement) but we will keep trying to garner support till the vote is over," said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named.
A section of the Congress leaders said the SP could walk out or abstain from the vote, as it did in the lower house.
"We don't know how the SP will behave during the vote," said the Congress leader adding, "We have to keep trying to get the numbers on our side till the voting is over."
The SP has kept the government guessing so far.The motion is being debated under rules 167-168, which entail voting.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said: "If this was to be of any benefit to the people and the economy, we would have supported it. But this is not."
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut taunted the government, saying it was "selling the country to foreigners like Wal-Mart. If Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh were alive, they would have bombed the people who are sitting here."