Arms scandal envelops Indian government
NEW DELHI, India -- The Indian government is defending itself against allegations that key officials were involved in an arms bribery scandal.
The government said a documentary showing senior politicians, bureaucrats and army officers taking money over a faked defense deal is "baseless and malicious."
The scandal has rocked the government and prompted the resignation of the head of the ruling coalition party, along with the suspension of four Indian defence ministry officials and army officers.
The controversy arose on Tuesday, when Indian news site Tehelka.com showed a number of officials, including chief of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party Bangaru Laxman, taking a bundle of cash from one of the website's reporters who was posing as an arms merchant.
Laxman has since resigned.
Both houses of parliament were at a standstill on Wednesday after opposition deputies called for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to resign.
"The P.M. should resign! The P.M. should resign!," opposition deputies chanted in the lower house, where the speaker called for an adjournment.
Angry opposition lawmakers called the prime minister a thief and shut down Parliament as they demanded the government resign.
Partners in the ruling coalition have demanded an independent inquiry.
Ready for debate
Vajpayee said on Wednesday his government was ready to face an inquiry into an arms bribery scandal, but only after a debate in parliament.
The United News of India quoted Vajpayee as saying "there is something fishy" about the fictitious arms deal.
"Let there be a discussion in the house," UNI quoted the prime minister as saying after a meeting with some of his senior cabinet colleagues.
But opposition Congress party senior leader Margaret Alva said a debate was not enough, and demanded to know what action the government would take.
Vajpayee has called an emergency meeting of his ruling coalition's partners, but analysts said the scandal was unlikely to bring the government down.
Several hundred Congress youth party activists demonstrated outside their headquarters in New Delhi, with police using tear gas and water cannon to control the crowd.
Meanwhile, media reports claimed the videotape was a "sensational exposure of the wheeling-dealing that precedes defense procurements in India."
The Press Trust of India said Defence Minister George Fernandes chaired a meeting of senior officials from his ministry and the three armed services late on Tuesday to decide how to deal with a handful of army officers named in the documentary.
George Fernandes has no plans to resign, his party said on Wednesday.
Earlier, the leader of a key partner in the ruling coalition, the Trinamool Congress party, threatened to pull out of the government if Fernandes' resignation -- which she said had already been offered -- was not accepted.
Pran Chopra, a political analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, said the affair was "a very acute embarrassment" for the government but not life-threatening.
"No alliance partner has any interest in quitting the alliance, so the government could survive a censure motion or win a vote of confidence," he said.
The BJP relies on a clutch of regional parties for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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