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India's Gandhi slams opposition MPs over deadlock

August 28, 2012


Congress party President Sonia Gandhi. — File Photo by AP

NEW DELHI: Sonia Gandhi, the president of India's ruling Congress party, on Tuesday upped the stakes in a six-day parliamentary stand-off that has paralysed government plans to revive the slowing economy.

Gandhi, the grand matriarch of Indian politics, attacked the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for holding noisy protests every day in parliament that have forced business to be abandoned.

The BJP is demanding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resign over allegations that his government missed out on billions of dollars of revenue by giving away coal rights.

“We are ready to face the challenges before us,” Gandhi, wife of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, told a Congress party meeting. “Let us stand up and fight, fight with a sense of purpose and fight aggressively.”

She said the BJP's protests in both the upper and lower chamber were a form of “blackmail” and accused the opposition of having “scant respect for the parliament”.

On Monday, Premier Singh, 79, was howled down by opposition MPs as he tried to defend himself against a report by the official auditor that said mining rights were handed out in a process that “lacked transparency and objectivity”.

Since he was re-elected in 2008, Singh has struggled with falling economic growth, damaging corruption scandals and accusations of policy drift after U-turns on key reform plans.

“Our focus... must be to revive and sustain the momentum of high economic growth,” Gandhi told her party.

“Dialogue, debate and discussion is the only way forward... but the opposition has to come forth and show a sense of responsibility.”

India recorded near double-digit expansion over much of the last decade but the economy grew by just 5.3 per cent in the January-March quarter, a rate that threatens to stall the country's transformation since the early 1990s.

The BJP on Tuesday dismissed Gandhi's criticisms and again forced parliament to be adjourned as its members stood up, waving papers and shouting for Singh's resignation.