Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he has "nothing to hide" from an investigation into the sale of phone licenses. This comes as the government tries to overcome criticism after a string of financial scandals.
Under pressure: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces allegations of corruption
India's Congress party has promised to combat corruption by fast-tracking court cases. The occasion was the plenary of the ruling party, marking the 125th year of its foundation. In a three-day conference that ended Monday, and was attended by about 15,000 members, the Congress vowed zero tolerance for corruption.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi attacks the opposition party BJP
Party President Sonia Gandhi outlined an agenda, including fast-tracking of all cases concerning corruption and full transparency in all procurements and contracts. "There is merit in instituting a new system of fast-tracking all cases that concern corruption by public servants, including politicians-including all of us," Gandhi stated.
Telecom license scandal
The Congress party has been hit by a string of corruption scandals and is going through its roughest political patch in six years since it returned to power.
Opposition parties stalled the last parliament session demanding the government must undertake a wider investigation into a $39 billion telecom license scandal.
Addressing the party's first plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected allegations that he had turned a blind eye to the scandal and said he was ready to be questioned by a parliamentary panel, the Public Accounts Committee, or PAC, in the so-called 2G spectrum inquiry.
Commonwealth Games bribery
"I would like to state categorically that I have nothing to hide from the public at large. That like Caesar's wife, the prime minister should be above suspicion, and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to that effect," Singh defended himself.
The Commonwealth Games earlier this year were also marred by bribery allegations
The prime minister also said the government was conducting a "thorough probe" into the Commonwealth Games organization and 2G spectrum allocation scandals, and no person found guilty would be spared. In the 2G scam, second-generation telecom licenses were sold by the government for a fraction of their value. Several organizers of the Commonwealth Games, which were held in Delhi in October, have been arrested for graft.
Attacking Sonia Gandhi
A combative Sonia Gandhi took on the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party:
"It is also our duty to counter all the accusations that are blatantly baseless; unfounded accusations being leveled by the opposition, particularly by the BJP."
The BJP, for its part, dismissed Prime Minister Singh’s offer of appearing before the Public Accounts Committee. Party spokesperson Nirmala Seetharaman said:
"The speech that the president of the Congress party has made clearly shows the mentality of a party which is under siege. The president of the party, Sonia Gandhi has only tried to deflect the attention of the people of this country who are waiting to hear answers to so many of their failures."
The opposition wants a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the 2G scandal because it would have the power to call cabinet members to testify.
The scandal has forced the former telecom minister A. Raja to resign, although he has denied any wrongdoing.
India’s Supreme Court has been holding hearings regularly on this issue, and is expected to rule shortly.
Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein