India hosts Pakistani lawmakers during Parliament meltdown

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NEW DELHI -- India played host to 13 Pakistani lawmakers this week to bolster relations and highlight the world’s largest democracy in action, but it hasn’t been the best time to showcase effective governance here.

Parliamentary business has been pretty much shut down for several days, and the brief periods when the body was in session were marked more by hoots, hollers and catcalls than measured debate or the reasoned passage of laws.

The uproar centers on the latest corruption scandal to hit the beleaguered Congress Party-led government, this one involving the allocation of coal concessions, which have reportedly cost the treasury about $34 billion. The opposition has threatened to boycott Parliament until Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resigns.

On the agenda for consideration during the current monthlong monsoon session ending Sept. 8 are bills related to the fight against corruption, food security and land acquisition. So far, however, no new laws have emerged from the lower house. By some estimates, each lost day in parliament costs India $400,000.

The visit by the 13-member Pakistani delegation comes as the two nations try and ease distrust and improve trade links in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attack by gunmen who New Delhi maintains were trained in Pakistan.

With little official business to handle, Indian lawmakers were able to meet their Pakistani counterparts in leisurely fashion, discussing the need for easier visa protocols, more people-to-people contact and other confidence-building measures. On Saturday, the Pakistanis traveled to central Bihar state to meet with its chief minister.  

Everything’s relative, however. Although the Indian Parliament missed 11 days last year because of protests over the issue of foreign investment and passed just 26 laws, a comparison of the legislative calendars in the two countries by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency found that Indian lawmakers still passed 60% more bills than their Pakistani counterparts.

The Pakistani lawmakers return home Sunday. "It is a great fortune that India and Pakistan are neighbors that work in favor of each other," the Meira Kumar, India’s speaker of the lower house, said in a statement about hosting the delegation. "Our relationship goes back in history through civilizational bonds and beyond."

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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: Greenpeace activists dressed as coal miners unfurl a giant banner against the coal scam near Parliament in New Delhi this week as India's opposition targeted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over allegations of government corruption. Credit: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images 
 
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