Singh Sets Anti-Graft India Agenda to Avert Election Loss

India’s ruling Congress party will try to pass anti-graft laws in the parliament session beginning tomorrow, seeking to court votes as opinion polls signal the possibility of its worst-ever defeat in elections due by May.

Six pending anti-corruption bills will be the main priority in the three-week legislative session, India’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said yesterday in New Delhi. The government will also present an interim budget, one of the last chances to woo disgruntled voters before the nationwide ballot.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration, weakened by graft allegations and the departure of allies, has passed the fewest number of bills ever by an Indian government sitting a five-year term. The possibility of an unstable coalition looms as polls indicate neither Congress nor the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are close to a majority, and as regional parties prepare for talks to carve out a competing alliance.

“Many historic bills have been passed in the 15th Lok Sabha, but in terms of numbers we have passed fewer bills,” Nath said yesterday, referring to the name of India’s lower house of parliament.

India’s main regional parties will meet tomorrow to discuss setting up a so-called third front for the general election to oppose coalitions led by Congress and the BJP, according to K.C. Tyagi, spokesman for Janata Dal (United), which is in power in Bihar state.

Third Front

Tyagi said opinion polls suggest regional parties will get about 220 seats, adding they are confident of being able to form a government. Tomorrow’s meeting will include leaders from the Samajwadi Party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the communist parties, he said.

An alliance without Congress or the BJP, the United Front, was in power from 1996 to 1998, after the two main parties failed to secure a parliamentary majority.

In the previous session of parliament in December, the lower house only spent 6 percent of the allocated time working, according to PRS Legislative Research, which tracks Indian legislation.

Members of both the opposition and Congress disrupted proceedings as they protested corruption, rising prices and the proposed creation of a new state in southern India.


Among the bills pending before parliament are those that would provide greater protection to whistle-blowers, make it easier to remove corrupt judges and check money laundering.

The BJP is set to win 188 seats in the 545-member lower house, surpassing the 182 seats it won in 1999, according to a C-Voter poll for India Today published on Jan. 23. Congress may get as few as 91 seats versus 210 now, dropping to its lowest on record, the poll indicated, without giving a margin of error.

A separate survey on Jan. 24 showed the BJP winning as many as 210 seats, with a maximum of 108 for Congress.

The national auditor has accused Singh’s administration of costing the exchequer as much as $53 billion through favoring certain companies in the awarding of mobile-phone licenses, and by handing out coal-mining permits without auctioning them.

Congress has been hurt by scandals, the slowest economic growth since 2003, and high inflation that’s been exacerbated by a slide in the rupee against the dollar.

The spearhead of the BJP’s campaign is Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate and chief minister of Gujarat state.

Modi is projecting the stronger-than-average growth in the state he’s ruled since 2001. To opponents, he’s an autocrat who failed to control deadly anti-Muslim rioting in Gujarat in 2002. Modi has denied any wrongdoing.

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