Stormy session marks Indian Parliament’s last session before 2014 elections

Updated 06 February 2014
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Stormy session marks Indian Parliament’s last session before 2014 elections

NEW DELHI: Congress party hopes of pushing through new laws to tackle corruption stalled on Wednesday when the Indian Parliament’s last session before a general election was adjourned amid rowdy scenes over the proposed creation of a new state.
The session, which will go through to Feb. 21, is seen as a final chance for Congress, which leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, to convince voters it is taking action on graft and to showcase leader Rahul Gandhi.
After 10 years in power, its popularity has sagged in large part over a series of graft scandals as well as its inability to halt a slide in the economy.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) calls it a lame duck government that is merely making a last-ditch attempt to shore up support. It should leave decisions to the next government, BJP leaders say.
On the eve of Parliament’s reopening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to all parties to help push through legislation. But Finance Minister P. Chidambaram acknowledged that might be a forlorn hope.
“I doubt whether it will pass any law. We’ve to go through the ritual of attending Parliament every day and coming back empty handed,” Chidambaram said in a speech to students.
Congress will try to push through 39 bills, including six anti-corruption bills, to address public anger over graft. They address issues such as protection for whistleblowers and corruption in the judiciary. It will also try to pass an interim budget expected to contain some pre-election sops for voters.
But shouting and protests over the creation of a new southern state derailed other matters when the session began, despite speaker Meira Kumar’s appeals for calm. The new state, Telangana, would be carved out of Andhra Pradesh and should generate vote-winning support for Congress.
Members of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh crowded around the rostrum of the chamber to denounce the proposed split, some carrying placards saying “Hail United Andhra Pradesh.”
The turn of events was hardly a surprise and the same might happen again on Thursday.
The Economic Times urged the opposition not to block the functioning of what it called the worst-performing House since independence from Britain in 1947.
“The opposition should also agree to cooperate in passing other important pieces of economic legislation cleared by various standing committees,” it said in an editorial.



The world’s largest democracy must hold a parliamentary election by May and the date is expected to be announced round about the close of the session.
The bills due to come up for debate cover issues that Gandhi, the fourth generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads Congress, has championed, including women’s empowerment and graft.
It may be too little, too late.
Opinion polls put the BJP, a conservative Hindu nationalist party spearheaded by Narendra Modi, ahead of Congress.
The newly formed Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party (AAP), which campaigns against corruption and took power in the capital Delhi in local elections in December, could draw voters away from either one while a number of smaller parties are discussing the formation of a “Third Front.”
Chandan Mitra, a BJP upper house member, said Parliament should not be rushed into passing bills without due scrutiny.
“There is no obligation on the part of the opposition to allow Mr Rahul Gandhi to get his agenda pushed though,” Mitra told Reuters before the session opened. “The government is trying to end this term on a high, but we don’t want to give them an easy ride.”
Also on the slate is a bill on reserving a bloc of parliamentary seats for women, reflecting the growing prominence of women’s issues after a series of sexual assaults.
Mitra said the interim budget was a priority.
“The interim budget will be passed as no one wants a shutdown,” he said.
Ajay Gudavarthy, a politics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Congress hoped to use the session to present itself and Gandhi as forces that can fight corruption.
“The party is trying to build an image for Rahul Gandhi. He is a bit of a non-symbol now and that is a big problem,” he said.
Mandira Kala, head of research at PRS Legislative Research, said the corruption issue should not distract attention from the economy. Once a star performer, India’s growth has slowed in recent years and it is now weathering a storm in emerging markets.
“When you look at what the economy needs there are a lot of bills that are not being looked at,” said Kala, picking out a pending higher education bill and a mining bill as examples.”


Sri Lanka police hunt 140 after Easter bombings as shooting erupts in east

Updated 13 min 25 sec ago
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Sri Lanka police hunt 140 after Easter bombings as shooting erupts in east

  • Muslims in Sri Lanka were urged to pray at home Friday after warning of possible car bomb attacks
  • President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with Daesh since 2013

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police are trying to track down 140 people believed linked to Daesh, which claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed 253, as shooting erupted in the east during a raid.
Muslims in Sri Lanka were urged to pray at home after the State Intelligence Services warned of possible car bomb attacks, amid fears of retaliatory violence.
And the US Embassy in Sri Lanka urged its citizens to avoid places of worship over the weekend after authorities reported there could be more attacks targeting religious centers.
Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told reporters he had seen a leaked internal security document warning of further attacks on churches and there would be no Catholic masses this Sunday anywhere on the island.

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The streets of Colombo were deserted on Friday evening, with many people leaving offices early amid tight security after the suicide bombing attacks on three churches and four hotels that also wounded about 500 people.
President Maithripala Sirisena told reporters some Sri Lankan youths had been involved with Daesh since 2013. He said information uncovered so far suggested there were 140 people in Sri Lanka involved in Daesh activities.
“Police are looking to arrest them,” Sirisena said.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers were deployed across the Indian Ocean island state to carry out searches and provide security for religious centers, the military said on Friday.
The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ullama, Sri Lanka’s main Islamic religious body, urged Muslims to conduct prayers at home in case “there is a need to protect family and properties.”
Illustrating the tension that has gripped the country, shooting erupted between security forces and a group of men in the east during a search and cordon operation, a military spokesman said.
The raid took place in the town of Ampara Sainthamaruthu near Batticaloa. The spokesman said there was an explosion in the area and when soldiers went to investigate they were fired upon. No details of casualties were immediately available.
Police have detained at least 76 people, including foreigners from Syria and Egypt, in their investigations so far.
Daesh provided no evidence to back its claim that it was behind the attacks. If true, it would be one of the worst attacks carried out by the group outside Iraq and Syria.
The extremist group released a video on Tuesday showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Daesh flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The government said nine homegrown, well-educated suicide bombers carried out the attacks, eight of whom had been identified. One was a woman.
Authorities have so far focused their investigations on international links to two domestic extremist groups — National Thawheed Jama’ut and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim — they believe carried out the attacks.
Government officials have acknowledged a major lapse in not widely sharing an intelligence warning from India before the attacks.
Sirisena said top defense and police chiefs had not shared information with him about the impending attacks. Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned over the failure to prevent the attacks.
“The police chief said he will resign now,” Sirisena said.
He blamed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government for weakening the intelligence system by focusing on the prosecution of military officers over alleged war crimes during a decade-long civil war with Tamil separatists that ended in 2009.
Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe in October over political differences, only to reinstate him weeks later under pressure from the Supreme Court.
Opposing factions aligned to Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have often refused to communicate with each other and blame any setbacks on their opponents, government sources say.
Cardinal Ranjith said that the church had been kept in the dark about intelligence warning of attacks.
“We didn’t know anything. It came as a thunderbolt for us,” he said.
The Easter Sunday bombings shattered the relative calm that had existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since the civil war against mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended.
Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.
Most of the victims were Sri Lankans, although authorities said at least 38 foreigners were also killed, many of them tourists sitting down to breakfast at top-end hotels when the bombers struck.
They included British, US, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Britain warned its nationals on Thursday to avoid Sri Lanka unless it was absolutely necessary.
Fears of retaliatory sectarian violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps.
But at the Kollupitiya Jumma Masjid mosque, tucked away in a Colombo side street, hundreds attended a service they say was focused on a call for people of all religions to help return peace to Sri Lanka.
“It’s a very sad situation,” said 28-year-old sales worker Raees Ulhaq, as soldiers hurried on dawdling worshippers and sniffer dogs nosed their way through pot-holed lanes.
“We work with Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. It has been a threat for all of us because of what these few people have done to this beautiful country.”