Modi faces turbulent session as Parliament re-opens

NEW DELHI (AP) — After a five-month absence, Indian lawmakers returned to Parliament yesterday with the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the nosediving economy setting the stage for a turbulent session.

The 18-day session comes as coronavirus infections in India surge faster than anywhere else in the world. The more than 92,000 new cases added yesterday raised India’s totals past 4.8 million. More than 79,700 people have died.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told reporters before Parliament resumed that he hoped the session will be productive.

“Parliament session is beginning in distinct times. There’s corona and there’s duty,” Modi said.

Lawmakers will wear masks and sit in seats separated by transparent plastic sheets while in Parliament and sessions will be shortened among other health protocols to guard against the virus. Opposition parties have protested one action: The cancelling of Question Hour, when lawmakers ask questions to ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media as he arrives at the Parliament in New Delhi. PHOTO: AP

The Parliament session is expected to be challenging for Modi and his government.

It includes laying out measures to revive an economy that shrank by nearly 24 per cent in the last quarter, the most of any major country, and trying to stop a virus surge worsened by a weak and underfunded healthcare system.

Other moves could be attempted to mitigate rising unemployment. Modi also said that his government will not rest until a vaccine is developed to fight the coronavirus.

But many opposition lawmakers worry that his government looks like it is not in control.

Main opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi targetted Modi over the spike in virus cases and accused the government of implementing the lockdown without a plan.

“Unplanned lockdown was the gift of one man’s ego, which led to the spread of coronavirus across the country,” Gandhi tweeted yesterday.

Millions of Indians lost their jobs instantly and tens of thousands of migrant workers, out of money and fearing starvation, poured out of cities and headed back to villages when Modi ordered the nationwide lockdown on March 24.

The unprecedented migration not only hollowed out India’s economy but also spread the virus to the far reaches of the country. Restrictions were eased since to revive the economy, even as virus cases grew.