Singh vows to stay and fight

By Andrew Buncombe

India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, a man who came to office with a clean reputation, has been forced to deny rumours he is to stand down amid a growing corruption scandal that has engulfed his government.

Faced by his worst crisis since he became Prime Minister in 2004, Singh held a televised press conference and insisted he would stay and confront the allegations.

"We have a functioning government, and whatever some people will say - that we are a lame-duck Government, that I am a lame-duck Prime Minister - we take our job very seriously," he said.

"We are here to govern and to govern effectively, tackle the problems as they arise, and get this country moving forward ... I never felt like resigning because I have a job to do."

Singh, 78, and his Congress Party-led coalition have been rocked by a relentless series of corruption allegations, ranging from the preparations for the Commonwealth Games to the allocation of telecoms spectrum that may have cost the country up to £24 billion ($51.2 billion) in lost revenue.

The row has taken the momentum out of the Government's second term and one minister - a member of a coalition party who was forced to resign - has been arrested and is being questioned by federal investigators.

The Prime Minister has a full three years left in office, but there has been much speculation on whether he will last the course.

A key talking point is whether Rahul Gandhi - son of the late Rajiv Gandhi and widely tipped as a future prime minister - is yet ready to take on the position, or if he would even want the job.

His mother, Sonia Gandhi, is president of the Congress Party and widely acknowledged as the centre of real political power, something else that has weakened Singh. Soaring inflation, particularly of food and basic commodities, has further undermined the Government.

Even though there is little prospect of the Government coalition falling apart at this stage, the main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, smells blood.

To broaden its national appeal, the party has recently asked a senior member, Jaswant Singh, to approach smaller, regional parties and sound them out about forming an opposition coalition.

The last parliamentary session was halted by opposition protests demanding a joint party investigation into the telecoms scandal. Valerian Rodrigues, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: "There is a broadening sensitivity that we need to have a return to the rule of law and political responsibility."

- INDEPENDENT

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