Indian opposition raises concerns with Modi over student protests

  • World
  • Tuesday, 16 Feb 2016

Prakash Karat (centre L), a leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), addresses students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) during a protest inside the university campus in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian opposition leaders raised concerns on Tuesday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over widening protests on university campuses, as the heated political atmosphere again threatened to stall reforms in parliament.

Lawmakers convene on Feb. 23 for a session in which the government will present its annual budget and try to enact key economic reforms, including the biggest overhaul of taxes since independence in 1947.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the government was ready to discuss all major issues, including the protests, after opposition lawmakers raised the issue with Modi at an all-party meeting aimed at preparing the ground for the upcoming session.

"The government is always willing to walk the extra mile to accommodate the views of opposition parties and take up a discussion on each and every issue," Naidu said.

His comments came against the backdrop of the biggest Indian nationwide student protests in a quarter of a century that followed the arrest of a student leader at a rally to mark the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri separatist.

Mohammad Afzal Guru was hanged amid controversy three years ago over his role in a 2001 attack on parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. The Supreme Court called the evidence against him circumstantial.

Students, academics and journalists took part in a fresh round of demonstrations on Tuesday to protest the arrest for sedition of Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the student union at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi.

In a counter demonstrations, government supporters staged a noisy protest outside the gates of the university that is known for its tradition of left-wing student politics.

They burnt an effigy of a JNU "traitor" and accused students of trying to break apart India with the support of the opposition Congress and communist parties.

"We will not allow any anti-national activity," said Kuldeep Kumar Sharma, 55, who works at a drug company. "The students are hiding behind those four walls. They should come out and face the nation."

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present the federal budget on Feb. 29. Otherwise, the government's main goal during the coming session is to pass the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, which would pave the way for a single market for goods in India for the first time.

All eyes will be on the upper house of parliament, where the government and its allies are a minority. The last two sessions of parliament saw no progress on the GST bill, which requires a constitutional amendment to enter force.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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