Sparks fly in parliament, BJP seeks early election

New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) India's political temperature shot up Friday as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the opposition took on one another over the country's economy, while the BJP called for early general elections.

A discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the sliding value of the rupee led to acrimonious exchanges, with an unusually combative Manmohan Singh hitting out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The prime minister, often criticised for silence on major issues, accused the BJP of continuously "opposing and criticizing" the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

"Parliament is the supreme body in the country and is not allowed to function session after session," Manmohan Singh. "I am glad the principal opposition recognises the need for consensus in the house.

"But building consensus is the responsibility of both the government and the principal opposition.

"I wish the conduct of the opposition party was consistent while letting the ruling party govern," he said, responding to questions on his comments on the sliding rupee.

"If you are worried about investors' confidence, conduct of parliament is an important factor. I do recognize there is a problem, it can be resolved if the opposition recognizes the responsibility for conduct of parliament.

"If the record of last nine years is looked at, the principal opposition has never reconciled itself that it was voted out of power in 2004," added Manmohan Singh, who has been prime minister since then.

This remark caused commotion, with BJP members protesting loudly.

Manmohan Singh continued his aggression: "Have you ever heard of a situation in any parliament where the prime minister is not allowed to introduce his council of ministers?

"Have you ever heard of any other country where primary opposition walks to the well of the house and shouts 'PM chor hai" (PM is thief)," he asked pointedly.

As the treasury benches shouted "shame, shame", a miffed opposition leader Arun Jaitley snapped back: "Have you ever heard of any country where the prime minister has won the vote of confidence by buying MPs?"

Jaitley was referring to the July 2008 trust vote after the Left withdrew support to UPA-I on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The prime minister defended his economic policies and insisted that India was not headed towards a 1991-like crisis when it faced a balance of payment crisis, forcing New Delhi to pledge gold to pay its import bills.

He pointed out that India had $280 billion of foreign exchange reserve -- sufficient to finance nearly seven months of imports.

Jaitley said the house wanted to know about the measures taken by the government to battle the current economic situation and was not interested in political sermons.

Asked what the government was doing to curb corruption, Manmohan Singh said this should not be a reason to disrupt parliament.

The war of words did not end in parliament.

BJP's Sushma Swaraj, who heads the opposition in the Lok Sabha, tweeted: "The rupee has lost its value, the prime minister has lost his grace."

Separately, the BJP called for early parliamentary elections to end what it said was the present atmosphere of "uncertainty" in the country.

BJP leader L.K. Advani said the request was made to President Pranab Mukherjee.

"The way to end the present scenario of uncertainty in the country is that the Lok Sabha election, scheduled to be held in 2014, should be held in 2013 itself along with assembly elections," Advani said.

"The free fall of the Indian rupee against the US dollar is only a symptom of the deeper malaise afflicting the Indian economy today," a memorandum submitted to the president said.

"We have come to urge you, therefore, to end the prevailing uncertainty by advising this government to seek a fresh mandate at the earliest and not later than the state elections due in the next three months," it said.

Elections are due in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan before the end of November.

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