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Asia

Indian government embroiled in scandals

The Indian government has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals linked to the Commonwealth Games, housing and telecoms, which has significantly dented its image.

Proceedings in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi have been disrupted over the past week

Proceedings in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi have been disrupted over the past week

For over a week now, opposition parties have been blocking the functioning of the Indian parliament.

They are calling on the government to order an inquiry into one of India's biggest corruption scandals, which involves the questionable auctioning of telecommunications licenses. The allocation scam is thought to have cost the government over US $35 billion.

Former telecoms minister A. Raja, who was forced to resign earlier this month, is alleged to have issued 2G licenses in January 2008 at prices well below market value. These frequencies are used to transmit phone calls and text messages to mobile phones.

"Mr Clean's" reputation at risk

The controversy has now engulfed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose reputation as "Mr Clean" is at risk, with the Supreme Court asking him to explain why Mr Raja has still not been prosecuted.

Two of the organizers of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi have been arrested

Two of the organizers of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi have been arrested

"The role of the Prime Minister is in question," explained Gurudas Dasgupta, an MP from the Communist Party of India, recalling a similar scandal involving an Indian stockbroker who is alleged to have engineered a rise in the Bombay Stock Exchange.

"In 1991 when the Harshad Mehta scam came to light, I raised the matter in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament)," he says. "Our fingers were raised against the finance ministry. At that time, the finance minister was Manmohan Singh. He agreed to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), even when his role was being questioned. Today, his role as PM is being questioned."

The telecom scam is just one of the current scandals to haunt the government. The ruling Congress was recently forced to sack Ashok Chavan, chief minister of the important state of Maharashtra, after he and other politicians were found to have colluded to obtain luxury flats that were destined for war widows.

Before that the government had launched a multiple-agency probe into the Commonwealth Games after fingers were pointed at the chief organizer Suresh Kalmadi. Two of his aides have already been arrested by anti-corruption investigators.

"If you are not part of the oligarchy, you are out"

However, the ruling party is not alone to be embroiled in scandal. The major opposition Bharatiya Janata Party also faces charges, particularly in the southern state of Karnataka, whose chief minister, B S Yedyurappa, is currently entangled in a land scam.

"Corruption has made people prosperous through the shorter route," deplored Kiran Bedi, one of India’s most-celebrated women police officers and a vocal campaigner against corruption.

"There is now a cozy relationship between bureaucrats, corporations and politicians – an oligarchic capitalism of corruption. If you are not part of this oligarchy, you are out of the system," she explained.

Indian Communications and Information Technology Minister A. Raja was forced to resign earlier this month

Indian Communications and Information Technology Minister A. Raja was forced to resign earlier this month

Prime minister has to show "vision"

According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010, India has slipped three places to 87 out of 178 this year.

Though the scandals pose no immediate threat to Singh's government, they are likely to delay the passage of more reform bills.

"This is going to continue because the opportunities in India are going to increase," warned analyst Samar Harlankar.

"In the last 20 years, the receipts to government have grown by more than 10. Our economy is going to grow and the opportunities are always going to be there. So this has to be struck at and punishment has to be shown. The prime minister himself has to get involved. He has to show vision."

Observers are keen to observe how Manmohan Singh will manage the scandals with a belligerent opposition breathing down on him.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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