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New attack by ‘insider’ deals blow to PM during India polls Opposition rules out major change to nuke policy

NEW DELHI, April 14, (Agencies): A new book accuses India’s prime minister of being weak and unable to stamp out corruption on his watch, the second recent attack by an insider that undermines the Congress party as it seeks re-election despite trailing in opinion polls. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has cast the world’s largest ever election as a battle between its dynamic and assertive leader Narendra Modi and the relatively ineffective incumbent premier Manmohan Singh.

That impression was underlined in a book, published on Monday, called “Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other Truths” by P.C. Parakh, who retired as coal secretary in 2005. It said Singh’s inability to take on vested interests led to the so-called “Coalgate” scandal, which rocked his premiership. It was the second book in the last week to portray 81-year-old Singh, prime minister since 2004, as a well-intentioned man of high personal integrity but one often unable to assert his authority. The other, by a former media adviser to Singh, was greeted with glee by the BJP, and the party is expected to seize on the Coalgate book to try to land another blow at a crucial time.

The BJP is favourite to emerge as the largest party in an election that ends on May 12, although surveys conducted before voting began last week suggest it is unlikely to win an outright majority and will need to form a coalition with other parties. Congress is headed for one of its weakest ever showings, the same polls showed.

The Coalgate scandal erupted in 2012 after the public auditor questioned the government’s awarding of mining concessions without competitive bidding, which it said unduly benefited chosen private and state companies and potentially cost the treasury billions of dollars in lost revenues. Parakh said that Singh, though keen to introduce open bidding, could not tackle resistance from coal ministers in his administration. Parakh said he himself came under pressure from people interested in acquiring coal blocks. “Pressures come in the form of enticements such as postretirement assignments, partnership in business, bribery, blackmail or pure intimidation.

Pressures also come from friends and relations,” Parakh wrote in the book. “Some can resist these pressures. Others succumb,” he said, adding that at no time did the prime minister’s office make recommendations or exert pressure in favour of any party.

The prime minister’s media adviser declined to comment on specific allegations in Parakh’s book, and referred to previous comments the prime minister made in parliament. Meanwhile, the head of India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win ongoing national elections, has ruled out any change in the country’s “no-first-use” nuclear weapons policy. The BJP sparked speculation about an end to the doctrine last week when its manifesto said that the party would “revise and update” India’s policy. “The no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons was a well thought out stand ... We don’t intend to reverse it,” BJP President Rajnath Singh told the Hindustan Times newspaper in an interview published Monday.

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