New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday reiterated his denial that anyone from his Congress party or the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government he heads had paid money to lawmakers to ensure their support during a trust vote in July 2008.
Singh, who made a similar statement in Parliament on 18 March, repeated his arguments at the end of a discussion in the Lower House on the US embassy cables from Delhi, made public by the Internet whistle-blower website WikiLeaks and The Hindu newspaper.
In his brief speech, laced with humour and direct attacks on the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh said a parliamentary panel that probed allegations of money changing hands for support, had concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges. But the inquiry, prompted by BJP lawmakers showing bundles of currency notes allegedly paid as bribes just before the 22 July 2008 floor test, had recommended further probe into the matter—a point stressed by the opposition and agreed to by Singh.
Singh repeated that the government could not confirm the veracity of the cables. But further probe is in progress, the Prime Minister said. “I would like to make it clear that none from the Congress party or the government indulged in any such transaction and we have not authorized anyone to indulge in any such transaction,” he said.
According to the cables cited, Nachiketa Kapur, an alleged aide of senior Congress leader Satish Sharma, had told a US embassy official that four lawmakers of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), an Uttar Pradesh-based party, had been paid Rs 10 crore each to vote in favour of the government in the floor test. The UPA won the vote by 275 to 256 votes in the 543-member Lok Sabha. The trust vote was triggered during the first term of the UPA after the 62-member Left bloc withdrew its support when Singh’s government decided to go ahead with the India-US civil nuclear deal.
Noting that he had been the subject of opposition criticism for years, Singh said the BJP had from 2004 adopted the attitude that the UPA government was an “usurper”. The UPA came to power defeating the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the general election that year.
“Advani believed that being the prime minister was his birthright,” Singh said, referring to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2004 polls. “All I can say is the people of India have voted us into power in a free and fair election. Please wait for another three-and-a-half-years,” Singh said, referring to the next general election due in 2014.
Earlier, initiating the debate, Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said the Prime Minister’s argument last week that the UPA had been re-elected in 2009 despite the allegations “cannot condone criminality if it has been perpetrated. Your statement (on 18 March) has not cleared the air of suspicion”, he said.
Leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj and former minister Yashwant Sinha demanded the investigations be expedited. Swaraj demanded that formal charges be registered against those accused of taking the bribes and then the case be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The Rajya Sabha also debated the US embassy cables. “What happed in 2008 was a fraud on Indian democracy,” said the BJP’s Arun Jaitley. “Bribes and inducements were offered (to lawmakers) to cross-vote.”
The UPA majority was made up by “retail purchase of parliamentarians”, he said.
Responding to the opposition charges, Union home minister P. Chidambaram said, “Investigations (into the expose) are in progress and will be completed shortly.”
Ruhi Tewari of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.