India Insight

The bitter truth behind BJP’s deafening budget silence

To some, the parliamentary walkout by India’s opposition prior to the vote on the country’s annual budget motion marked the failure of India’s ruling Congress party to engage with its primary adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over its claims that the Prime Minister had lied to parliament to protect his own reputation.

To others, the sight of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj leading her MPs out of the chamber as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee prepared to deliver the most important parliamentary bill of the year encapsulated the sorry state of India’s increasingly bitter partisan politics that show no signs of repair since trumpeting corruption became the opposition’s raison d’etre.
Lawmakers and leaders of India's main opposition alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Sushma Swaraj (front, L) and L.K. Advani (front, R) attend a protest against rising prices wearing aprons with protest slogans inside the premises of the Parliament House in New Delhi REUTERS/Stringer(INDIA)
Swaraj would later tell The Hindu that her walkout was to avoid disrupting the passage of the bill, but the damning point rang out loud and clear: the opposition had decided the corruption drumbeat was more important than the budget.

Mukherjee had earlier pleaded with senior BJP leaders to allow the budget to be debated prior to any discussion on a parliamentary privilege motion submitted against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Swaraj, promising a two-and-a-half hour debate on the issue after the budget had passed.

But as the budget was given precedent over the privilege motion, out trooped the opposition in protest, leaving a half-empty chamber to pass the bill that will keep the country financed on April 1.

India’s parliament was paralysed in November by opposition protests demanding an inquiry into allegations a minister had lost the exchequer up to $39 billion in a telecom spectrum scam, which eventually resulted in the entire winter session being abandoned. Since it reopened in February, after extensive negotiations between Congress and the BJP, various protests from the opposition over other corruption charges have resulted in adjournments and cancellation of parliamentary business.

With friends like these … WikiLeaks underlines fragile US-India ties

OBAMA/

For all the talk of India’s increasingly strong partnership with the United States, what the latest WikiLeaks documents published in The Hindu show are far slower, foot-dragging ties with a suspicious Delhi in one corner and a frustrated Washington in the other struggling to find common ground and trust.

The really worrying thing is that these reports come with a time lag of at least a year, before corruption scandals and policy stagnation effectively paralysed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s gushing words for an “emerged” India last year, one wonders if now the level of U.S.  complaints have reached a crescendo.

The WikiLeaks reports published have so far sparked one political bombshell – the cash for votes scandal as the ruling Congress party pushed through a 2008 confidence vote. But other reports on Monday highlight more mundane, but deep-seated irritants.

Wikileaks cash for votes allegations implicate India’s Congress

India’s ruling Congress party offered cash for votes to pass a crucial 2008 confidence vote in parliament, a secret U.S. state cable released on Thursday said, embroiling Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government in yet another corruption scandal that risks further opposition attacks on the graft-smeared coalition. File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

File photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking to the media after his government won a vote of confidence in parliament in New Delhi July 22, 2008. REUTERS/B Mathur

The secret U.S. state department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on Thursday details a conversation between a senior Congress party member and a U.S. Embassy official surrounding the payment of almost $9 million by a government facing a crucial confidence vote to members of a regional political party to secure their support.

Congress looks to seize the initiative as budget looms

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.

Should forces responsible for over 100 killings be praised for restraint?

India’s Prime Minister praised the work of security forces in disputed Kashmir on Tuesday, in a show of support for troops that killed over 100 separatist protesters last year that risks angering those that resent India’s large military presence in the state.

Indian policemen stand guard during a curfew in Srinagar September 21, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The remarks represent a seal of approval for security forces that are cited by many Kashmiris as an element of the violence, rather than the preventers of it, and come as a team of interlocutors enters its fifth month of talks in the troubled region, and almost two months after Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said that a political solution to the troubles was likely to emerge “in the next few months.”

But can Manmohan Singh’s praise for the “tremendous restraint” of Indian forces in Kashmir be applauded considering they have been responsible for the death of over 100 separatist protesters in months of violent clashes since last summer?

Congress’s corruption calamities continue as the Thomas saga unravels

In a season of corruption charges that have shackled India’s ruling Congress party’s political ambitions, the ongoing saga of the country’s tainted anti-corruption chief is perhaps the hardest to believe.

The curious case of P.J. Thomas, the accused fraudster appointed to head India’s corruption investigation agency by the Prime Minister last October, took another twist on Monday to further undermine Manmohan Singh’s party’s ability to tackle graft that threatens to become the overriding legacy of its current term.

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram speaks during a news conference after a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) interior ministers meeting in Islamabad June 26, 2010 REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

In a fillip for the already emboldened opposition, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said on Monday that the three-man selection committee headed by the Prime Minister that appointed Thomas to the role of Chief Vigilance Commissioner was aware of the pending fraud case against him – but made the appointment regardless.

Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

Smiles, handshakes and declarations of friendship abounded during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi on Monday, as the investigation into a $39 billion telecoms scam that has centred on the Tamil Nadu party appeared to have been forgotten in favour of coalition camaraderie.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to Karunanidhi, President of DMK (Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) party during an election rally in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 4, 2006.  REUTERS/Babu
With parliament paralysed and DMK MP Andimuthu Raja sacked from his role as telecoms minister as a result of the scam, the last thing Singh needed was signs of dissent from a key member of his Congress party’s ruling coalition.

After appearing to snub the Prime Minister on his arrival on Sunday – choosing instead to “meet a poet” – Karunanidhi, also chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was all smiles during a 25-minute meeting, telling reporters afterwards that the relationship was “strong”.

Singh returned the favour, telling national broadcaster Doordarshan: “The alliance remains as strong as ever”.

The ‘Manmohan’ factor reins in the Congress

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi(L) with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is accused of looking the other way while murky deals were on in the telecom ministry.

He has drawn flak from the opposition and his personal integrity was questioned in what may be India’s largest corruption scandal.

But with few alternatives for his role as a fill-in for the Congress heir apparent, it is no surprise Singh is being stoutly backed by his boss, powerful party chief Sonia Gandhi.

Tony Blair says India to be ‘one of the key leading powers of the world’

Forced to cancel book-signing events in his own country due to the threat of being pelted by eggs by anti-war protestors, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair took the publicity tour for his newly-released memoirs to India with an interview with the Times of India on Saturday.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a joint news conference in New Delhi, September 8, 2005. REUTERS/Kamal Kishore

In A Journey, which has caused a great deal of interest and controversy in the UK, Blair writes: “India remains , still developing, that manages to be genuinely democratic,” and this sentiment continues in the interview:

“I was very keen to move beyond the old-fashioned relationship… My view was India was going to be one of the key leading powers of the world in the times to come. The west in the 21st century, including countries like mine will have to get used to the fact that we’re going to have partners who will be equals, sometimes more than equals,” he says.

A rare news conference by the PM

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/INDIA“The prime minister of India rarely gets to speak, face-to-face, with the people of India,” writes historian Ramachandra Guha.

We might add the next-best-possible substitute ‘the media’ to this plaint.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will indeed have a rare conversation with the media on May 24, while presenting a report card on his government’s first year in office.

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