India's Modi faces turbulent session as Parliament reopens

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the media as he arrives at the Parliament in New Delhi, India, Monday, Sept.14, 2020. Indian lawmakers have returned to Parliament after more than five months even as coronavirus cases continue to surge at the fastest pace than anywhere else in the world. (AP Photo)

NEW DELHI – After a five-month absence, Indian lawmakers returned to Parliament on Monday with the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, the nosediving economy and simmering tensions with China 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 Monday 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 canceling of Question Hour, when lawmakers ask questions to ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.

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% 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 and solve a bitter military standoff with China, three months after their deadliest military confrontation in decades.

On Monday, Modi appealed to all political parties to stand in solidarity with soldiers guarding India’s borders even as opposition parties demanded more clarity on the government’s response in the standoff with China.