News / Asia

Corruption Uproar Again Derails Indian Parliament Agenda

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to the media as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla (L) and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal watch on the opening day of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to the media as Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla (L) and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal watch on the opening day of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in
Kurt Achin

India's hopes of debating an ambitious list of legislative proposals have been put on hold, at least for the moment. The opening day of the parliament's new session, which has sweeping legislation on food security and government transparency at the top of its agenda, was derailed by an uproar over the issue of corruption.

The opening of the so-called "monsoon session" of India's parliament Monday began with a dignified ceremony.  

Just before entering, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a rational discourse.

"We are hoping that this session will be a productive, constructive session - and I appeal to all segments of the house to make it that way," he said.

However, the session was adjourned before midday as it rapidly degenerated into a free-for-all shouting match, led by members of India's main opposition party.

The scene was reminiscent of last year's winter session, which was paralyzed by a rancorous shouting match over accusations that the current Indian government was unwilling or unable to tackle rampant corruption.

In this session, the ability of India's lead opposition party, the BJP, to attack the ruling Congress party over corruption was widely seen as diminished following Sunday's resignation of the BJP chief minister of Karnataka state, who stepped down after an anti-corruption panel indicted him for profiting from an illegal mining scam.

An emboldened Prime Minister Singh told reporters Sunday his party was now ready to take corruption discussions head on.

"We are not afraid of discussing issues of corruption. The opposition also has too many skeletons in the cupboard," said Singh.

Explaining Monday's uproar in parliament, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj expressed anger at Singh's statement.

"The prime minister has vitiated the atmosphere by an unnecessary comment," Swaraj said.

Last week, former Indian telecommunications Minister A. Raja fueled public anger over a mobile phone spectrum auction scam, when he told a court that Prime Minister Singh and senior cabinet officials were aware of key decisions to sell spectrum licenses illegally at below-market prices.

Senior opposition leader BJP Arun Jaitley spelled out the party's decision to hold Singh himself accountable.

"No answers have been given by him. No answers can be given by him. And therefore he has decided to sidetrack the entire issue, and  attack the opposition," said Jaitley.

This parliamentary session was set to be one of the most ambitious in recent history - debating key measures on ensuring food security for the poor, as well as establishing a citizen's oversight body to police government corruption. With lawmakers scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, it remains unclear when, or if, those issues will be addressed.

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