Indian parliament erupts in chaos over Iraq oil-for-food scandal

Daily Times (Pakistan)
November 25, 2005

New Delhi: India’s parliament erupted in chaos Thursday as the opposition attacked the ruling coalition over alleged links between a federal minister and Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal.

Members of the opposition and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led coalition traded charges over the naming of former foreign minister Natwar Singh and Congress as beneficiaries in a UN report on the oil-for-food scam. Natwar Singh quit as foreign minister earlier this month over allegations in the report that he profited from oil allocations by the government of Saddam Hussein. He remains a minister without portfolio.

“The house can function only if (Congress party president) Sonia Gandhi and Natwar Singh resign. It cannot run until then,” said Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The uproar on the second day of parliament’s new winter session forced an adjournment of both houses.

The BJP has said it wants a special parliamentary debate on the oil-for-food issue. The Congress party, already under fire over what critics say is its “pro-US” stand on Iran’s nuclear programme, was listed in the report as a beneficiary of a separate oil allotment.

Those who backed the government of Saddam Hussein were sometimes rewarded in such a way, media reports have said.

Both Natwar Singh and Congress have denied any wrongdoing and the government has set up two separate probes to investigate the allegations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised Natwar Singh his old job back as foreign minister if he is cleared by the two probes set up by the government.

The BJP has sharpened its attack after being emboldened by the massive defeat in Bihar state this week suffered by Railways Minister Laloo Yadav Prasad, whose Rashtriya Janata Dal party is the second largest member of the national coalition government.

The BJP had allied in state assembly elections in Bihar with the regional right-leaning Janata Dal-United party to oust Yadav, who faces charges of stealing millions of dollars in a long-running animal feed scandal. Yadav, accused by critics of presiding over a “jungle raj” of criminals in Bihar, had held an electoral stranglehold on the state for 15 years.

The victory in impoverished, lawless Bihar by the Janata Dal-BJP alliance was the Hindu nationalist party’s first major good news since its surprise ousting in national elections last year.

Analysts say the government faces no immediate threat from the Bihar vote which has no impact on the parliamentary seat arithmetic, but it may move more cautiously on economic reforms due to pressure from its leftist allies.

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