The Indian government yesterday said it was still able to pass reform legislation in parliament, a day after its biggest ally abruptly quit the ruling coalition, but ministers did not answer questions on whether it would call a snap election.
The withdrawal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Party has rattled markets, who are worried that it has left Indian rime Minister Manmohan Singh unable to pass reforms needed to turn around the country’s worst economic slowdown in a decade.
The government is looking to pass a slew of bills in the current session of parliament to restore investor confidence and stave off a ratings downgrade.
The DMK pullout has fired speculation that the government, which is in a minority in parliament and relies on the support of powerful regional parties to stay in power, could call early elections.
The DMK’s withdrawal was sparked by a row over censuring Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes committed during the nation’s civil war.
“I want to reiterate that the government is neither lame nor a duck. We are absolutely stable,” Indian Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath told a news conference in New Delhi.
Indian Minister of Finance P. Chidambaram, also speaking at the news conference, said the government would have enough support in parliament to pass legislation.
Neither Nath nor Chidambaram answered a question on whether an early election was likely.
The DMK submitted a formal letter of withdrawal to the Indian president on Tuesday night and its five ministers were expected to submit their resignations yesterday. Indian National Congress party leaders said they still hoped to persuade the DMK to change its mind.
The source of the row is a draft UN resolution on allegations that Sri Lankan troops committed war crimes in the closing stages of the 25-year-long civil war against its minority Tamil population.
Tens of thousands of civilians were killed in 2009, in the final months of a war that began in 1983, a UN panel has said, as government troops advanced on the last stronghold of the rebels .
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the lower house passed a bill toughening punishment for sex offenders, including the death penalty if a victim dies, after the fatal gang-rape of a student that sparked outrage.
Members of the decisionmaking lower house approved the legislation, which also contains new penalties for stalking, groping, voyeurism and acid attacks.
The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill must now be approved by the upper house and provides for a minimum 20-year prison sentence for gang-rape, which can be extended to life in jail.
It also allows for the death sentence if a rape victim dies or is left in a vegetative state. Under existing laws, rapists face seven to 10 years in jail.
The bill’s approval came four days after a 39-year-old Swiss cyclist was gang-raped in Madhya Pradesh State and on the day a female British tourist suffered leg injuries when she jumped from the first floor of the Hotel Agra Mahal, in Agra, when two men tried to enter her room at about 4am.