I am not a lameduck PM, will not quit: Manmohan

  • Reuters, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Feb 16, 2011 13:01 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denied on Wednesday that massive corruption scandals had made him a lame duck leader, vowing he would stay on in office to push through reforms despite months of policy paralysis.

Allegations the government may have lost up to $39 billion in revenues after firms were awarded telecoms deals at rock-bottom prices in return for kickbacks have rocked the ruling coalition and compounded country's fragile investment climate.

"Whatever some people may say, that we are a lame duck government, that I am a lame duck prime minister, we take our job very seriously," Singh said is a rare media roundtable with TV editors aimed at improving his worsening image.

"We are here to govern, and to govern effectively. Tackle the problems as they arise and get this country moving forward."

The 78-year-old Singh has been under increasing pressure to stamp out on corruption and his decision-making appears to have been paralysed in his second term despite winning re-election in 2009 with an increased majority.

The last parliamentary session was halted by opposition protests demanding a probe into the telecoms scam, effectively stopping any reform bills like one to make land acquisition easier for both industry and farmers.

The government appeared close to agreeing to a broad, cross-party investigation in the scandal, paving the way for Parliament to resume as normal for a Feb 21 budget session, and Singh said he would press ahead with reforms.

"We have not given up, we will persist (on reforms). There are difficulties, particularly when government is not allowed to function."

"We have important legislation, apart from the budget, to put before Parliament," Singh said.

"And talks are going on with the opposition parties to ensure that whatever our differences, parliament should be able to function normally."

A legacy question
The scandals have taken a heavy toll on Singh, concerned his legacy is transforming from one of being the founders of India's economic boom to someone who did nothing to stop corruption or policy paralysis.
Singh denied, though, there was any talk of him resigning.

"I never felt like resigning because I have a job to do. The country voted our party to be the leader of the coalition, and we have a lot of unfinished business to accomplish... I will stay the course," Singh told editors.

Singh may have hoped the current scandals would ebb. But an aggressive media, an assertive Supreme Court and an opposition tasting political blood have seen momentum into the corruption probes grow.

Policy making has also been in limbo since his re-election in 2009 as the government battles fires from inflation to graft scandals. Reforms like opening up retail and the financial sector to foreign investment have been put on the backburner.

Foreign direct investment has fallen for three consecutive years, from 2.9% of GDP in 2008/09 to around 1.8% of GDP in 2010/11. Some of this has to do with the global economic slowdown, but regulatory uncertainty is also a factor.

Some commentators say there could be a repeat of 1989, when Congress lost a general election due to the Bofors scandal over gun contracts involving close associates of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who were accused of taking bribes.


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