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Daily Israel Report

Indian Opposition Claims "We Told You So"

Most Indians, even the opposition, consider Manmohan Singh likable, but in fighting corruption nice guys finish last.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/16/2011, 8:09 PM / Last Update: 2/17/2011, 11:14 AM

 

Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister, held a rare news conference to address the issue of corruption in his government and the problem of inflation. The Prime Minister is still personally quite popular and nobody doubts his personal integrity.

The main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) that has rebranded itself from a Hindu nationalist party to a good government party, is attempting to tell the Indian voter 'we told you so' by reviving the charges that it made without success in the 2009 election campaign.

The party's elder statesman,  84-year-old Lal Krishna Advani, speaking at a BJP rally in Calcutta in anticipation of the elections in West Bengal, reminded voters that during the 2009 national election campaign he had said "I have seen all the prime ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru [India's Prime Minister when the country received independence in 1947] but I feel pity for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because I have never seen such a weak prime minister…At that time (2009) I had said that being a good person is fine. But if a good person is weak and he becomes prime minister then he can never stand up against corruption charges and scams. In the last few months, my words have been proven true."

The BJP are also assailed the ruling Congress party for in its ineptitude in handling the issue of black money. The government's own Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjeeadmitted that 462 billion to $1.4 trillion in black money had been deposited abroad successfully by Indian citizens.

There has been a veritable laundry list of scandals, some estimated to have cost the treasury scores of billions of dollars.

The telecommunications ministry handed out licenses and bandwidths at below market prices and the telecommunications minister has since been arrested. Some licenses were awarded without any competitive bidding.

Top officials of state run Indian banks have been accused of taking bribes to grant corporate loans.

The Commonwealth games that India hosted in October at a cost of $6 billion were plagued by irregularities and more than 16 projects have been targeted by the anticorruption watchdog.

Perhaps the scandal with the most shock value involves a 31 story apartment tower in a choice section of Mumbai that was intended for war widows and their families and therefore sold for a 10th of the market price or less. The widows did not benefit from the knockdown price, but Congress party politicians, bureaucrats and military officials did. The opposition is calling for an interparty parliamentary investigation, claiming that the government cannot be trusted to clean its own house.

Sonia Gandhi. the President of the Congress party, sensing public dissatisfaction, called upon Congress ministers to surrender their discretionary powers. These include the ability to allot land and alter land use.

In his press conference, the Prime Minister promised to severely punish all the wrongdoers, but he also charged that the anti-corruption frenzy could erode Indian self-confidence “An impression has gone round that we are a scam-driven country and nothing good is happening in our country, that we are weakening the self-confidence of the people of India. I do not think that is in the interest of anyone in our country."

He also took issue with the charge that he and his government were too weak to deal with the problem:

"Whatever some people may say, that we are a lame duck government, that I am a lame duck prime minister, we take our job very seriously, we are here to govern, and to govern effectively, tackle the problems as they arise and get this country moving forward."