Congress looks to seize the initiative as budget looms

February 15, 2011

It has been a winter to forget for India’s ruling Congress party, as a series of corruption scandals have muted its ability to control parliament, dented its popularity ratings and dappled the formerly dazzling-white kurta of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks during the 11th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2011 organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi February 3, 2011.  REUTERS/B Mathur

But rumours of a deal with the emboldened opposition to launch a parliamentary probe into corruption allegations that would end months of paralysis, and a surprise attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership by one of their former ministers could signal a ceasefire in the war of words and a light at the end of the tunnel for Congress.

TV channels, citing party sources, reported a compromise deal between the warring parties on Tuesday, as Singh announced he would be conducting a broadcasted press conference with the editors of India’s leading news channels on Wednesday, in a move to clear the air over graft allegations and restore confidence in his leadership days before parliament opens on Feb. 21.

The BJP have had their tails up since October, when the 2G telecoms scam, estimated to have cost the Indian exchequer $39 billion, first made headlines. Since then, parliament has been washed out and Congress has been barraged by a never-ending series of allegations and criticisms over its rejection of a joint parliamentary enquiry, which could see Singh hauled before an investigatory committee.

But remarks by former BJP telecoms minister Arun Shourie on Monday, which accused senior party leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj of doing nothing to expose the scandal, exposed cracks in the opposition that Congress may have looked to exploit in its negotiations over the scope of any investigation.

Congress have continually stressed that the scandal began during the BJP-led government; prior to Congress’ 2004 general election victory. Any agreement between Congress and the BJP — the Hindu-nationalist party that promotes a free-market economy and conservative social policy — will be announced by the Speaker in parliament itself, news channels reported.

But any talk of reconciliation is a boon for Singh and Congress, as they look to rebuild their graft-hobbled government.

All eyes will be on the Prime Minister on Wednesday. If he can deliver an assured performance, this coming parliamentary session could well mark a turning point in the party’s fight against corruption, and reinvigorate his second term in office.

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