Modi appeals for opposition support

A policewoman trying to stop a member of the All India Mahila Congress from crossing a barricade during a protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi yesterday. Mr Modi's government aims to push through reforms to revive the econ
A policewoman trying to stop a member of the All India Mahila Congress from crossing a barricade during a protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi yesterday. Mr Modi's government aims to push through reforms to revive the economy during Parliament's 21-day session.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indian PM must win passage for reforms, including sales tax, to revive economy

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed yesterday for opposition support in pushing through key reforms, as Parliament began a new session set to be dominated by corruption allegations against members of his party.

Mr Modi's right-wing government swept to power last year on a pledge to revive the economy. It aims to push through reforms during the 21-day session, including introducing a new national sales tax.

"We all have to work together to take important decisions for the development of the nation," Mr Modi said. "I am hopeful that the Parliament will live up to the country's expectations to act as a medium for constructive debate."

Mr Modi is keen to pass a long- pending national goods and services tax which aims to replace a myriad of overlapping state duties that often deter investment, as well as a controversial Bill that makes it easier for businesses to buy land.

But the Congress party has indicated it will use the current monsoon session to demand the resignation of a number of scandal-hit leaders of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL

This will be a very stormy session since the objective is no more to conduct parliamentary business, but to put the government in the dock.

INDIAN ANALYST K.G. SURESH

The opening of the Upper House was disrupted by opposition members protesting against Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's role in helping graft-hit former cricket boss Lalit Modi to obtain a passport. They shouted slogans, forcing the Speaker to halt proceedings.

The opposition has also urged Mr Modi to sack chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh state, where thousands of people are alleged to have bribed officials and politicians in return for jobs or places in training institutes.

The Upper House was adjourned for the day while the Lower House shut down yesterday soon after reopening to allow lawmakers to mark the recent death of a member.

The BJP does not have a majority in the Upper House, and analysts say opposition parties will try to prevent progress in this session, which comes ahead of elections in the eastern state of Bihar later this year.

"This will be a very stormy session since the objective is no more to conduct parliamentary business, but to put the government in the dock," said analyst K.G. Suresh.

Last year, voters turned against the Congress party during the general elections after it was embroiled in a string of corruption scandals during its decade in power.

Mr Modi has made tentative progress on economic transformation, and in his first year Parliament was a third more productive than the first year of the last government, data by PRS Legislative Research shows.

But the pace of change has been slower than many expected and private companies are slow to invest in economic revival.

Plans to pass the land purchase law are on the backburner after Congress and other parties dubbed it "anti-farmer" and refused to let Parliament vote on it.

The tax Bill has been passed in the Lower House and has the support of the Upper House. But the government needs a two-thirds majority to make it law, which it will struggle to reach without Congress support. Congress wants the Bill to be amended before backing it.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'Modi appeals for opposition support'. Print Edition | Subscribe