India Insight

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.

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 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”.

No longer business as usual for India’s parliament

A view of the parliament building in New Delhi December 1, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

The least productive parliament session in 25 years — this is not a milestone to be proud of in the world’s largest democracy.

Worse, next year’s budget session might bear the brunt of the present logjam, which is far from being resolved.

The deadlock raises questions beyond the usual debate about political ramifications. Are India’s MPs squandering public money, shelled out in the form of taxes, by stalling parliamentary proceedings?

Should the Congress agree to a JPC probe?

The parliament building in New Delhi December 1, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

With parliament still deadlocked, does it make sense for the Congress to bow to opposition demands and set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged telecoms scam?

If the government does agree to such a probe — and a few allies already think it should — it may well be in for a prolonged period of uncertainty.

A JPC in which the ruling party is in a minority and has to depend on mercurial parties for support will be a loaded gun.

Will departure of embattled India anti-graft chief end Congress party woes?

India’s Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the country’s federal anti-corruption body, has a self-affirmed mandate to “fight corruption and ensure probity in public life by taking various preventive and proactive initiatives from time to time.”
The Indian parliament on Wednesday approved a $9.8-billion additional spending bill to cover various payments including outstanding government debt, food and fertiliser subsidies, and government pensions. The bill was passed by a voice vote in parliament, a type of vote allowing the government to bypass a three-week deadlock between the ruling Congress party-led coalition and opposition parties caused by rows over a series of corruption scandals. REUTERS/B Mathur
Faced with a windfall of political scandals to investigate, red faces thus abounded at the CVC when media reports showed that its chief, and the highest anti-corruption officer in the country, P.J. Thomas, was himself facing questioning in connection with corruption allegations.

Thomas, who was appointed to the position by the Prime Minister and Home Minister in September despite being implicated in a 1992 palmolein import fraud case while serving in the Kerala state government, on Saturday found himself the subject of strong resignation rumours as the central government desperately seeks to insulate itself from contagious graft allegations

The embattled Thomas has already been stripped of his leadership of a probe into an alleged $39 billion telecoms scam due to the outstanding charges and his tenure as the Telecommunications Secretary during the time that the alleged illegalities took place in the ministry.

Budget 2010: Reactions from the common man

Rohan Dua spoke to people on the streets of New Delhi as Pranab Mukherjee tabled the 2010/11 Budget in parliament –

Playing politics over fuel price hike?

INDIA/For the first time in parliamentary history, the entire opposition led by the BJP walked out during the Finance Minister’s budget speech.

The walkout was to protest against the hike in petrol prices.

The opposition is saying the government move adds to the burden of the people.

However, the united front put by the fractious opposition also hints at some pre-planning by the opposition leaders.

Was this reaction justified?

Shouldn’t the parliamentarians have stayed back and argued the point in the House?

How to rate the budget?

INDIA-BUDGET/When the finance minister presents the budget, the stock market moves one way or the other.

And like every year this will dominate the news.

Over there and everywhere.

Is that fair? Or convincing?

Some of the analysis will follow a pattern.

If the stock market goes up, the budget may be described as successful because it didn’t “rock the boat”.

If  it moves sideways, it may be said the market had already absorbed the good news — the growth figures for instance.

Railway Budget 2010: Reactions from the common man

Urvashi Sibal spoke to passengers at the New Delhi railway station as Mamata Banerjee tabled the 2010/11 Railway Budget in parliament –

Are Muslims of troubled Kashmir treated unfairly by Indians?

Parvez Rasool, a Kashmiri cricketer, was briefly detained in Bangalore on suspicion of carrying explosives, an incident which triggered anger in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

This is not an isolated case.

Earlier actor and model Tariq Dar, a Kashmiri Muslim, was mistakenly imprisoned in New Delhi for weeks for having terror links. But Dar was later found innocent.

Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, a Kashmiri, was even awarded the death sentence in connection with the 2001 Parliament attack case, but was later released.

  •