End to Indian parliament standoff urged

NEW DELHI, Reuters

India’s coalition government, hit by allegations of bribery, urged opposition leaders on Monday to end a bruising standoff in parliament over the scandal.

A government minister said he believed the opposition which had paralyzed parliament for eight days last month over the arms bribery scandal would allow the lower and upper houses to resume business including passage of the 2001/2002 budget.

“I have requested opposition leaders on behalf of the government to forget what happened in the first round of the budget session and start work in the session,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan said after a meeting with opposition heads.

“It is my estimation that from tomorrow (Tuesday), the opposition will extend cooperation in starting the work,” he said.

But the main opposition Congress which is leading the campaign against the government over the bribery allegations said it had not yet decided its course of action in parliament.

Congress leader Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said the party’s political affairs committee would hold a second meeting on Monday night to formulate its strategy.

Media reports said, however, that the opposition had already decided not to block passage of the budget.

Both houses of parliament reopened on Monday after a three-week recess but were adjourned for the day as a mark of respect to a former deputy prime minister who died earlier in the month.

The presiding officers of both houses read out obituary tributes to Devi Lal before calling off the proceedings.

Parliament has been in turmoil since a secretly shot video showed a string of public figures, military officers and bureaucrats apparently accepting wads of money from journalists posing as arms dealers.

The scandal claimed the scalps of the defense minister and the chiefs of two political constituents of the ruling coalition, but the opposition said the entire administration had to go.

The coalition government, facing its worst political crisis since the scandal broke, said it was willing to debate the bribery allegations but this was possible only if parliament could function.

“he government is ready for any type of discussion, adjournment motion … no-confidence motion, whatever they want to have, they can have it and we’re fully prepared for it,” BJP spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said.

Meanwhile, the Congress has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of launching a slander campaign against party president Sonia Gandhi to divert attention from the arms scandal.