Corruption issues rock Indian parliament
Prime Minster Narendra Modi, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and other ministers arrive to address the media at the Parliament House in New Delhi on Tuesday.
New Delhi - Prime Minister seeks cooperation from opposition to pass key bills
India's parliament was adjourned on the first day of a new session after opposition lawmakers demanded the resignation of leaders tainted by corruption allegations, deepening an impasse that has stalled the government's reform agenda.
Members of the opposition Congress party on Tuesday stormed the well of the chamber in the upper house (Rajya Sabha), shouting slogans and forcing the speaker to halt proceedings.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for opposition support in pushing through the key reforms. "We all have to work together to take important decisions for the development of the nation," Modi told reporters on his way into the parliament.
"I am hopeful that the parliament will live up to the country's expectations to act as a medium for constructive debate."
In the monsoon session of parliament, the government's main goal is to ease the passage of the biggest overhaul of taxes since independence in 1947 as well as a controversial bill that makes it easier for businesses to buy land. Plans to pass the land purchase law are on the backburner after the Congress and other parties dubbed it "anti-farmer" and refused to let parliament vote on it.
The tax bill has been passed in the lower house and got the support of an upper house panel on Monday. But the government needs a two-thirds majority to make it law, which it will struggle to reach without Congress support.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have a majority in the upper house, and analysts say opposition parties will try to prevent progress in the current session, which comes ahead of elections in the eastern state of Bihar later this year.
"This will be a very stormy session since the objective is no more to conduct parliamentary business, but to put the government in the dock," said political analyst K.G. Suresh.
Passing the measure would be a victory for Modi and go some way to reassuring investors who are growing jittery that economic modernisation is happening too slowly.
But the opposition Congress party has indicated it will use the current monsoon session to demand the resignation of a number of scandal-hit BJP leaders.
Modi is under pressure from the opposition to fire his Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and a state leader amid claims they gave favours to corruption-hit former cricket boss Lalit Modi to obtain a passport.
Separately, the chief minister of a central Indian state Chhattisgarh governed by Modi's party is on the defensive over the deaths of witnesses involved in a massive fraud in entrance exams for college and government jobs.
The Congress has urged Modi to sack Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state, where thousands of people are alleged to have bribed officials and politicians in return for jobs or places in training institutes.
Vociferous demands for the resignations of the external affairs minister as well as Chouhan and his Rajasthan counterpart Vasundhara Raje led to disruption of the upper house.
"There can be no resignation. If you want discussion, we can have it," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
That remark infuriated Congress party lawmakers, who charged into the prohibited area around the chairman's seat and shouted, "Corrupt officials resign, then we will debate."
The lower house shut down for the day soon after reopening to allow lawmakers to mark the recent death of a member.
Parliament's last session was the most productive in recent years, with 23 bills passed, including the long-awaited legislation to open the insurance market to foreign companies. Voters turned against the Congress Party in general elections last year after it was embroiled in a string of corruption scandals during its decade in power. - Agencies