Indian PM Manmohan has ‘nothing to hide’ in telecom scandal
NEW DELHI: India's premier Manmohan Singh said on Monday he had "nothing to hide" as he offered to be quizzed by a parliamentary panel over a multi-billion-dollar telecom scandal that has shaken his government.
Singh, who enjoys a reputation for honesty in India's murky political world, has been battling to protect his image against accusations of failing to act over the government's cut-price sale of mobile telephone licences in 2008.
"I have nothing to hide from the public at all," Singh, 78, declared at a Congress party annual strategy meeting, adding he would write to the chairman of parliament's public accounts committee asking to appear before it.
He said being questioned by the committee should silence opposition parties who have demanded a cross-party probe into the sale of secondgeneration (2G) licences.
Singh said his offer was intended to clear the air and ensure the prime minister was "above suspicion" in the scandal, which the federal auditor said could have cost the government up to 40 billion dollars in lost revenues.
As premier since 2004, "I may have made mistakes" but "I have tried to serve my country," said the turbaned Sikh, an academic who spearheaded India's economic liberalisation in the 1990s when he was finance minister.
Singh has repeatedly refused opposition demands for the cross-party probe into the scandal, which paralysed parliament for the entire winter session, saying other independent investigations into the allegations were sufficient.
Singh has been accused of failing to intervene when his then telecoms minister, A. Raja, sold the 2G licences for a fraction of their value.
There is no suggestion Singh benefited personally from the sales to allegedly preferred bidders. But critics have accused Singh of turning a blind eye for the sake of political expediency-Raja's regional DMK party is needed by Congress to shore up its coalition. Arun Jaitley, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party which has been leading the opposition protests, rejected Singh's offer to appear before parliament's accounts committee.
Jaitley, whose party has threatened to also block the February session of parliament over the scandal, said the committee had too narrow a mandate to probe questions such as why Singh "kept quiet for all these years".
"The nation is waiting for the answers, they cannot to be given to a forum of your (Singh's) choice," Jaitley said.
Singh's statement came a day after party president Sonia Gandhi, the powerbroker of Indian politics who tapped him to be premier in 2004, backed Singh, calling him "the embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity". -Afp