New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday denied allegations stemming from cables uncovered by WikiLeaks that his government had bribed lawmakers for their support during a crucial trust vote in July 2008. The opposition was dissatisfied by his reply and reiterated its demand for Singh’s resignation, saying he should accept moral responsibility.
Refuting claims: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the government cannot confirm the ‘veracity, contents or even the existence’ of communications that appeared in the WikiLeaks cables. PTI
Singh, whose government has been battling a series of corruption charges and controversies, said the Indian government cannot confirm the “veracity, contents or even the existence” of communications that appeared in the WikiLeaks cables and which were reported by The Hindu newspaper.
“Government rejects that allegation absolutely and firmly... I wish to make it clear that no one from the Congress party or the government indulged in any unlawful act during the trust vote,” the Prime Minister told both Houses of Parliament.
The opposition, which forced proceedings to be adjourned repeatedly on Thursday and Friday, has asked Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar that a detailed discussion be held on the issue early next week. Parliament is to meet after a three-day break on Tuesday.
While the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies wanted the Prime Minister to quit, others, including the Left parties, have sought an investigation.
The US diplomatic cable reported by The Hindu said Nachiketa Kapur, allegedly an aide of senior Congress leader Satish Sharma, told an 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 22 July 2008 floor test. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won the vote by 275 to 256 votes in the 543-member Lok Sabha.
The RLD also rejected the allegations, saying its members had voted against the government at the time. Kapur and Sharma denied the reports.
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.
Singh pointed out that the allegations of bribery, raised by the BJP, had been investigated by a panel that concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to draw any conclusion. That inquiry had been prompted by BJP lawmakers showing bundles of currency notes allegedly paid as bribes.
The Prime Minister also said that the victory of the Congress party and its allies in the 2009 general election was a vindication of the government. While the Congress party increased its tally from 145 to 206 in the election, the BJP’s 138 members fell to 116, and the Left parties won 24 seats, he said.
“It is unfortunate that the opposition continues to raise old charges that have been debated, discussed and rejected by the people of India,” he said. “It is most surprising that speculative, unverified and unverifiable communications should be given dignity and seized upon by the opposition parties to revive old charges that have been soundly rejected.”
In a joint statement issued by Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha and Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha, who lead the BJP in the respective Houses, the party asked why the Prime Minister did not refer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. “You are the principal beneficiary of the vote of confidence succeeding. There was admittedly a case of bribe,” they said. “Even belatedly, are you willing to show any repentance and accept moral responsibility for such a monumental blunder and resign as the Prime Minister?”
Ruhi Tewari contributed to this story.