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December 19, 2010

India's PM Defends Himself in Corruption Scandal

India's prime minister has defended himself in connection with a massive communications graft scandal that has hit his government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh states he is ready to be questioned by a parliament panel in connection with the sale of telecommunications bandwidth by his former telecommunication minister.

He says the prime minister should be above suspicion. "I wish to state categorically that I have nothing to hide from the public, at all, and as a proof of my bonafides, I intend writing to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. that I shall be happy to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, if it chooses to ask me to do so," Mr. Singh states.

He says his offer of being questioned by a panel headed by an opposition leader, should silence his critics and opposition parties.

Mr. Singh is seen by many people as being among India's most honest politicians.  But questions have been raised about why he did not act faster against the former minister, who was a a key ally of his coalition government.  That minister is alleged to have sold telecom bandwidth at below market prices, resulting in losses of up to $40 billion to the government.

Mr. Singh promised an investigation into all aspects of the allocation of bandwidth.  The incident has been termed as India's biggest corruption scandal.  However, the prime minister rejects calls from the opposition for a cross-party probe.

The telecom scandal came on top of allegations that huge sums of money were siphoned off, during the organization of the Commonwealth Games, which Delhi hosted in October.    

The graft allegations have put the government, which won a credible victory last year, on the back foot.  It could transact virtually no business during the recent parliament session, as opposition parties blocked legislation.

The head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, Sunday describes corruption as "a disease spreading through our society" and says there should be zero tolerance for graft.  She suggests that cases of corruption should be fast tracked and has called for a new law to ensure transparency in government contracts.

Corruption is not the only issue hurting the image of the Congress Party.  A dismal performance by the party in regional polls, held in Bihar state last month, demonstrated that it has not been able to dent strongholds of regional parties and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, in several parts of the country.

Ms. Gandhi has called on party workers to rebuild the party organization and address weaknesses as Congress prepares for more regional polls in the coming year.