Opposition Rally Chokes Central Delhi as Singh Battles Corruption Claims

India’s opposition rallied in New Delhi to protest what it says is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s failure to check corruption in his government, taking its challenge from parliament to the capital’s streets.

Leaders and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance massed today near the city’s historic Red Fort to kick start a two-month nationwide campaign to “expose the widespread corruption” in Singh’s Congress party-led administration, symbolized by a growing dispute over the award of cellphone licenses.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley said Singh should agree to a cross- party probe of charges against his administration and explain his position before it. “If you don’t have any answer, then quit the post on moral grounds,” Jaitley said. “The government cannot run in an atmosphere of suspicion.”

The biggest crisis of Singh’s second term intensified after the publication of a Nov. 16 report by Comptroller and Auditor General of India. The agency calculated that the 2008 sale of airwaves for mobile telephone services netted the government just 123.9 billion rupees ($2.7 billion), though they were worth as much as 1.5 trillion rupees. Two days earlier, Telecommunications Minister Andimuthu Raja had resigned from Singh’s cabinet while denying any wrongdoing.

Opposition calls for a parliamentary probe into the spectrum auction -- something Singh has so far ruled out -- and fresh questions over the prime minister’s influence over his colleagues paralyzed a monthlong session of the legislature. A bill to overhaul rules on land acquisition for industry was among dozens stalled.

‘Irresponsible’

The standoff is an “irresponsible confrontation” as both the BJP and Congress are tainted by corruption, said Prem Shankar Jha, a New Delhi-based political analyst. “There’s no political significance to this except wasted time. A very large number of bills, of which some are of great importance, are the casualty.”

Corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency make India the riskiest country in Asia for investors, according to a survey by Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd.

About 15,000 Congress members gathered on the outskirts of the capital Dec. 20 to counter the BJP offensive amid fears the legislature may still be gridlocked early next year when Singh must get his federal budget approved by lawmakers.

The prime minister told the Congress meet that he would punish anyone found guilty in multiple probes into the alleged scam and he offered to face the Public Accounts Committee, a panel of MPs examining the auditor’s auction report.

Court Role

Congress “has asked ministers and chief ministers to step down pending inquiries into corruption allegations,” said Shakeel Ahmad, a party spokesman. “Why is the BJP not doing” likewise over claims BJP-run state governments in southern Karnataka and elsewhere are involved in graft, Ahmad said.

The Supreme Court has said it will monitor a federal investigation into the alleged irregularities in the sale of mobile-phone licenses to verify the probe is being conducted appropriately.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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