December 2, 2010


[ The list of corruption scandals this year includes allegations of widespread corruption as India prepared to host the Commonwealth Games this October and revelations that politicians, officials and military bosses took units in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Mumbai meant for families of soldiers killed in battle.]

By Rama Lakshmi
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greets
 delegates during an Indian Labor conference,
 in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
Singh, the economist credited with unleashing 
India's explosive growth, stands accused of 
dragging his heels while one of his government 
ministers presided over a telecommunications 
scandal that cost the country billions of dollars. 
(AP Photo/Manish Swarup)(Manish Swarup - AP)
NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has enjoyed an unblemished career in a country where most politicians are regarded as corrupt.

But as scandal after scandal rocks his government, analysts and opposition lawmakers are questioning his ability to discipline corrupt colleagues and stop wrongdoing.

Although no one has suggested that Singh has personally benefitted from any of the scandals, even some in his Congress Party concede that the sleaze that surrounds him has begun to tarnish his squeaky-clean image.

"The public perception about Manmohan Singh was about decency, dignity and moral authority," said S. Prasannarajan, the managing editor of the newsmagazineIndia Today. "The politics of greed, the leitmotif of Indian democracy, has taken the sheen off the much feted gentleman-prime minister."

Singh, 78, a soft-spoken, Oxford-educated economist, has listed corruption and crony capitalism as among the biggest problems India must battle. His supporters say corruption is endemic in India and cannot be erased overnight.

Singh's domestic troubles come as his global stature appears to be rising. During his visit to India in early November, President Obama called Singh "a dear friend." Earlier, Obama said: "The world listens attentively when you speak. You have a deep understanding of economic issues." Former British prime minister Gordon Brown also praised him for his economic acumen.

The most recent scandal involves a telecommunications minister who resigned after he was accused of selling business licenses to select cellphone companies at throwaway prices, costing the nation about $40 billion in lost revenue. A recent government audit report said the licensing process was "arbitrary, unfair and inequitable."

Singh has been criticized for waiting until just three days before the audit report was released before asking the minister, Andimuthu Raja, to quit. The Supreme Court, which is hearing a public interest petition on the case, said it was "troubled" by Singh's "silence" on the matter.

Some Congress Party members have privately said Singh is simply unable to rein in colleagues in his coalition government because he needs their support to rule.

But analysts say he might have sacrificed his honor for power.

The list of corruption scandals this year includes allegations of widespread corruption as India prepared to host the Commonwealth Games this October and revelations that politicians, officials and military bosses took units in a high-rise apartment building in downtown Mumbai meant for families of soldiers killed in battle.

In April, at least two government ministers were accused of impropriety in a cricket tournament scandal.

In each case, Singh asked the ministers and party colleagues to quit and then replaced them. India's newsmagazine Outlook asked on its cover last week, "Clean-up or Cover-up?"

Singh's political opponents have seized on the scandals to question his credibility.

"The prime minister claims he is a man of great integrity and professes probity, and yet right under his nose . . . public money is being looted systematically by people who are part of the system and work under him," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, general secretary of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Singh's supporters say the opposition has no evidence against him.

"It is irresponsible to blame the prime minister when the country's economy is galloping ahead under his leadership," said Deepender Singh Hooda, a Congress Party lawmaker. "In the absence of any substantive issue, the opposition is using its spectacular imagination to drag the prime minister's name into this matter. His credibility needs no certification from a hallucinating opposition."

Last week, Singh appeared to be alluding to his troubles at a conference in New Delhi.

"It is often said that these are testing times. In fact, I cannot help feeling that we in India are always living through testing times," he said. "Indeed, as prime minister, I sometimes feel like a high school student - going from one test to another."


A US envoy believed the president of Sri Lanka bore responsibility for an alleged 2009 massacre of Tamils, suggest cables obtained by Wikileaks.
Tamil diaspora  protest Srilankan President's visit to
United kingdom
It comes as Sri Lanka's parliament was suspended after a scuffle between MPs over demonstrations in the UK against President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit.

More protests are planned later in London outside the hotel where Mr Rajapaksa is thought to be staying.

The demonstrations have been blamed for the Oxford Union's decision to cancel a speech by Mr Rajapaksa planned for Thursday.

Thousands of Tamil civilians are estimated to have been killed in a few days during a military bombardment as the 26-year insurgency ended in May last year.

Heathrow protest

The US ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, said in a diplomatic cable sent on 15 January this year that President Rajapaksa and the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, were largely responsible.

She said there were no examples of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops for war crimes while it remained in power.

"In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate Gen Fonseka," Ms Butenis writes.

It is one of more than 250,000 classified American diplomatic cables, obtained by the Wikileaks website and released to several publications, including the Guardian and the New York Times.

On Thursday, parliament in the capital, Colombo, had to be suspended after several MPs tried to attack an opposition Sinhalese member.

Dr Jaylath Jayawardena was accused of instigating a protest by a large group of Tamil demonstrators at London's Heathrow Airport as President Rajapaksa arrived on Monday night.

Dinesh Gunawardena, a cabinet minister, called for an inquiry into the conduct of the United National Party MP.

Several government members then tried to assault Dr Jayawardena, who was protected by a few of his colleagues and some members of the ruling party.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected international calls for an independent inquiry into the war against the Tamil Tigers.

'Shot while surrendering'

At least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in a few days of bombardment when the military cornered the rebels in a small coastal strip in May last year, according to a UN estimate.

Other estimates put the death toll as high as 20,000. Both sides have been accused of crimes against humanity.

The former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, said last year during his failed campaign for the presidency that military decisions had been taken in the final days of the war without his knowledge.

These included the president's brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, allegedly ordering Tamil Tiger rebel leaders to be shot dead as they tried to surrender, he claimed.
The Sri Lankan government said they were shot by other insurgents.

Mr Fonseka led troops to victory last year over the Tamil Tigers, but fell out with the president when he stood unsuccessfully against him in polls; he was charged with corruption and jailed.

Meanwhile, Colombo dismissed the authenticity of footage broadcast by the UK's Channel 4 News, purportedly showing Tamil prisoners being killed.

Channel 4 said the video - apparently showing trussed-up male and female prisoners being shot dead amid taunts from onlookers - was taken shortly before the Tamil Tigers' defeat. ( Read more and watch video here)