x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Corruption row sees Indian ministers' wealth listed online

Prime Minister's office reveals financial assets of Indian ministers in transparency effort after Anna Hazare's 13-day hunger protest against corruption.

NEW DELHI // The Indian prime minister's office has disclosed the financial assets of the country's ministers online after outrage at corruption sparked protests by tens of thousands in support of an anti-graft hunger striker.

Manmohan Singh declared personal assets of about 50 million rupees (Dh4m) on his official website. Mr Singh, who, as finance minister 20 years ago, launched reforms that liberalised the nation's economy, listed 32 million rupees in savings and term deposits and a 1996 Maruti car valued at 24,745 rupees.

The current finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, declared his net worth at 12.6 million rupees and his wife's at 17.8 million.

Of the 77 officials listed on the prime minister's website, net worth declarations were not available for five, including Vilasrao Deshmukh, the minister of science and technology.

The effort for transparency comes after the activist Anna Hazare, 73, endured a 13-day fast against corruption that led to nationwide protests last month. The government is embroiled in a series of corruption allegations, including irregularities at last year's Commonwealth Games - for which organisers bought US$80 (Dh294) rolls of toilet paper costing US$80 (Dh294), according to a report in the Economic Times quoting internal documents - and an investigation into the sale of mobile phone permits in 2008 that India's chief auditor said may have denied the exchequer $31 billion.

The government's mishandling of Mr Hazare, who was initially arrested, has eroded public support for Mr Singh's Congress party from 30 per cent to 20 per cent since May, while backing for its chief rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party, rose to 32 per cent from 23 per cent, according to a poll released on Saturday by Nielsen and Star News.

The three-day survey of 9,000 people was carried out starting on August 29, the day after Mr Hazare ended his hunger strike, according to the Star News website. It did not provide a margin of error.

Mr Hazare's "crusade against corruption has given the beleaguered opposition, particularly the BJP a platform to contest" the general election, the pollster said.

In the decision-making lower house of parliament, Congress holds 207 seats while the BJP has 115 seats.

The BJP also turned out to be the most favoured party in all regions except in the south where Congress was slightly ahead.

Congress, which was swept back into power in 2004, faces an important electoral test in assembly elections next year in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and general elections in 2014.

The poll findings were in stark contrast to a similar survey by Star News-Nielsen in May before the Hazare movement seized the country's attention.

Then, Congress was ahead with a share of 30 per cent of the vote while BJP had 23 per cent.

Mr Hazare ended his fast in New Delhi before tens of thousands of supporters after a debate in parliament in which legislators agreed in principle to his conditions for a new anti-corruption law.

The former army lorry driver became a symbol of national dissent for a public angered by a series of multi-billion-dollar scandals implicating top government officials, near double-digit inflation and an economy that is losing steam.

* Bloomberg News, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse