Indian PM Says He Has "nothing To Hide" Over Telecom Scandal

20 Dec

NEW DELHI – India's Premier Manmohan Singh said Monday he had “nothing to hide” as he offered to be quizzed by a parliamentary panel over a massive telecom scandal that has shaken his government.

Singh, who enjoys a reputation for honesty in India's murky political world, has been battling to protect his image against accusations of failing to act over the government's cut-price sale of mobile telephone licences in 2008.

“I have nothing to hide from the public,” Singh, 78, declared at a Congress party annual strategy meeting, adding he would write to the chairman of parliament's spending committee asking to appear before it.

Singh said he hoped his offer would satisfy opposition critics who have sought a cross-party probe into the second-generation (2G) licences sale, which India's audit watchdog said may have lost the government up to 40 billion dollars.

“The prime minister should be above suspicion and it is for this reason I am prepared to appear before the Public Accounts Committee,” he said.

As premier, “I may have made mistakes” but “I have tried to serve my country”, added the turbaned Sikh, an academic respected for spearheading India's economic liberalisation in the 1990s when he was finance minister.

Singh has repeatedly rebuffed demands for the cross-party probe made by the opposition, who paralysed parliament for the entire winter session, saying police and other investigations were enough.

Singh has been accused of failing to intervene when his then telecoms minister, A. Raja, sold the 2G licences for a fraction of their value.

There is no suggestion Singh benefited personally but critics have accused him of turning a blind eye for the sake of political expediency — Raja's regional DMK party is needed by Congress to shore up its coalition.

Arun Jaitley, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been leading the opposition protests, rejected Singh's offer to appear before parliament's accounts committee.

Jaitley, whose party also has threatened to block parliament's February session unless its demands are met, said the committee had too narrow a mandate to probe questions such as why Singh “kept quiet for all these years”.

“The nation is waiting for the answers, they cannot be given to a forum of your (Singh's) choice,” Jaitley said.

Party president Sonia Gandhi, the powerbroker of Indian politics who tapped Singh to be premier in 2004, has staunchly backed him, calling him “the embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity”.

She promised in a separate speech the party “will tackle corruption head-on through our action and not through our words alone”.

Congress, in alliance with other smaller parties, retained power in the 2009 polls but is seen as struggling amid a slew of scandals including October's over-budget Commonwealth Games where investigators uncovered suspect contracts and substandard construction.

The party's woes have led to policy drift with important economic reform legislation on hold.

Police on Monday said they had summoned for questioning Raja, the south Indian politician at the heart of the scandal, who has declared his innocence.

“I will continue my cooperation with the law,” Raja told reporters.

– AFP/ir

Channel News Asia

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