Indian opposition quits parliament in corruption protest

INDIAN opposition parties have launched an anti-corruption campaign and declared a three-week boycott of parliament in protest at the authorities' refusal to take the blame for the country's biggest financial scandal.

Yesterday's walkout followed four days of turmoil over the government's attempt to shrug off a parliamentary inquiry which implicated two ministers in the scandal and accused the Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh, of failing to prevent it. Mr Singh, the architect of India's shift towards a more open economy, offered to quit when the parliamentary report came out last December, but the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, refused to accept his resignation.

The scandal is rooted in the cracks between India's old bureaucratic system, which keeps handwritten records with exquisite slowness, and the financial boom engendered by Mr Singh's reforms. Operators in the Bombay markets exploited the strains in a pounds 1bn securities fraud which caused a stock market crash in 1992.

The government's response to the parliamentary inquiry last week agreed on tighter regulation, but infuriated the opposition by describing criticism of Mr Singh as 'unwarranted' and 'unfair'. Since parliament's month-long monsoon session began last week, the Congress party has offered to withdraw the offending words but not the response. Yesterday the opposition, overcoming its normal disunity, agreed to boycott both houses for the session.

Mr Rao seems to have underestimated the strength of feeling in parliament, where Congress has a slim majority only in the lower house, the Lok Sabha. Opposition parties, believing he has also miscalculated the extent of public feeling, are hoping the issue can be used to undermine the government's support, and possibly to force an election earlier than its 1996 due date.