An uncharacteristically combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday put the blame squarely on the Opposition for stalling key legislation and vowed more steps to turn around an economy that fresh data showed wilted further in the first quarter.
The octogenarian architect of India’s first round of economic reforms in 1991 has a reputation for reticence, but spared no punches on Friday, reminding the BJP in the Rajya Sabha of its responsibility towards orderly conduct in Parliament.
“The principal opposition party has never reconciled to the fact that it was voted out of power nine years back,” said a stern-faced PM. “If you are worried about the investors’ confidence, conduct of parliament is an important factor.”
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Over the past three years, the Opposition has consistently disrupted the working of the House to protest a host of corruption scandals.
Initially the Opposition was taken aback by Singh’s frontal attack but recovered to interrupt repeatedly, at one point taunting him about files pertaining to the Coalgate scam that have gone missing from the coal ministry.
“I am not a custodian of files of the ministry,” an angry PM retorted.
The situation got so fraught that deputy chairman PJ Kurien expunged from the proceedings some words used by Singh while responding to personal attacks made on him, and sharp references from Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley to the alleged cash-for-vote scandal of 2008 involving the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Later, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj tweeted: "The rupee has lost value, and today the PM has lost grace."
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Singh called for a wider political consensus on economic issues to spur the economic growth that slowed to 4.4% in April-June this year, the lowest rate since Jan-March 2009.
"Clearly we need to reduce our appetite for gold, economise in the use of petroleum products and take steps to increase our exports," he said, a prescription for closing India's current account deficit (CAD)-the gap between dollar inflows and outflows-that hit a record high of 4.8% of GDP in 2012-13.
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But he gave no specifics and hinted that a transition to a more stable economic state could be painful. "There may be short term shocks to our economy and we need to face them. That is the reality of a globalised economy, whose benefits we have reaped in the last 15 to 20 years," he said.
Singh also suggested rollback of subsidies to control the fiscal deficit, pushed for insurance and pension reforms to attract foreign capital and offered the hope that a good monsoon would ease food inflation.