New Delhi: A united opposition on Wednesday mounted attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the cash-for-votes scam wondering as to how he could wash his hands of the matter as he had headed the government in 2008 and was the “biggest beneficiary” of the trust vote.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj made a stinging attack on Singh in the Lok Sabha telling him that as head of the government he should take responsibility instead of making others scapegoat for the omissions and commissions of his regime.
“It is the habit of the Prime Minister to blame others. If it is price rise then (agriculture minister) Sharad Pawar is responsible, if it is 2G then (former telecom minister) A. Raja is responsible and if it is Commonwealth Games then (Suresh Kalmadi) is to blame,” she said.
“‘I don’t know anything, I am not aware of anything, there are coalition compulsions and I am not that much guilty as I am made out to be... the people are fed up with such excuses. They are asking why you are the Prime Minister,” she said participating in a discussion.
“The issue involves your leadership,” she said, quoting an Urdu couplet which means one should not make any excuse but tell how the caravan got looted. The Prime Minister was present in the House and was listening intently to the debate.
Earlier, initiating the discussion on the Prime Minister’s statement on the WikiLeaks’ expose in connection with the cash-for-votes scam, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta accused Singh of resorting to “parliamentary piracy” to win the vote of confidence in 2008 and demanded that he come clean.
He said the report of a Parliamentary panel on the scam had clearly recommended “investigation by an appropriate agency” into the alleged attempts to purchase votes to win the trust vote on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
“It’s a case of parliamentary piracy because some members were hijacked. The suspicion is that organized group of political gangsters were at work,” he said.
Dasgupta’s remarks terming the alleged scam as an act of “parliamentary piracy” and the handiwork of “organized groups of political gangsters” drew an angry retort from the ruling benches.
Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
As the CPI leader demanded a probe in to largescale absenteeism in the opposition benches during the trust vote, ruling members, including Congress member Raj Babbar, were on their feet protesting the reference.
Taking objection to Prime Minister’s remarks that the UPA had returned to power even after the alleged scam, Dasgupta said “electoral verdict cannot condone criminality if it has been perpetrated.”
He said the Congress had polled only 25% votes in the General Elections but did not want to draw any conclusion from it. “I make no conclusion. I don’t say it is a minority government,” he said.
However, this contention by the Prime Minister gives credence to the ‘might is right’ theory.
“Might is right is a dangerous proposition that does not fit-in in a democracy,” he said.
Last week, the Prime Minister had hit out at the opposition for giving “dignity” to an “unverified communication”, and pointed out that the Congress had won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and that the tally of the Opposition parties had reduced considerably.
Despatches by American diplomats, leaked by WikiLeaks and published in a national daily, purportedly claim that payoffs had been made to MPs to ensure a majority for the Congress-led government in the confidence vote following differences over the India-US nuclear deal in 2008.
As per the cables, a US diplomat was told Rs50-60 crore was kept aside by the Congress party to get some opposition members of the Lok Sabha on board before the trust vote in July 2008 during the first tenure of the UPA government.
“I concede that the PM was precise in his statement and the statement was cogent. PM was very prompt in throwing the ball in the court of the Opposition, his tone was very firm, normally he is not. He was firm in rejecting the complaints on cash-for-votes during the last no confidence motion,” said Dasgupta.
The CPI leader said linguistic fevour was used to conceal the facts. “Strong is the language of the weak and persuasive is the language of the strong,” he said.
Disputing Singh’s contention that neither any Congress member nor anyone from the government indulged in any illegal act, Swaraj insisted that bribe was paid and asked who its “beneficiary” was, “whose government was saved” and “who had to remain the Prime Minister”.
Taking a dig at Singh, she questioned why he says he is unaware whenever an issue is raised.
Amid repeated disruptions by Congress members, she said after Parliament Inquiry Committee had recommended further probe into the scam, Delhi Police Crime Branch had registered a case in January 2009 and the Central Forensics Laboratory had verified the authenticity of tapes of the sting operation.
Noting that Singh had not mentioned this in his statement, Swaraj said, “Nobody tells you anything? This is why I have given notice for Breach of Privilege Motion.”
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
Maintaining that she did not believe that Singh did not know who was involved, she said even if he was unaware, “he was equally guilty by the logic that a beneficiary of a crime is as responsible as the one who commits it.”
Pointing out that Singh was the “mukhiya (head)” of the government, she said he should end the “habit of blaming others” as such an attitude will work no longer.
On the Prime Minister’s contention that the Congress victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections had proved that there was nothing wrong with the 2008 Confidence Motion, Swaraj said an electoral victory cannot condone a wrongdoing.
Dubbing Singh’s argument as “illogical”, she said if it was accepted, it would amount to adding a “new chapter” in “criminality in politics”.
Asking the Prime Minister as to from where he got “this argument”, the BJP leader sought to make her point by referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots over which chief minister Narendra Modi is facing attack.
“After the Gujarat riots, Modi won elections twice but still Congress had not let him off... The (Gujarat) state police, CBI and SIT (Special Investigation Team) have given clean chit to Modi, but this aspect about mandate does not apply there, according to you (Congress),” Swaraj said.
She said it is irrespective of the fact that the BJP never sought to take that plea.
Swaraj also referred to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and said that despite the unprecedented mandate of over 400 seats obtained by Congress in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections, the taint of communal violence against it is yet to go away.
Senior BJP leaders L. K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
Insisting that India’s democracy had been “shamed” by the ‘cash-for-votes’ scam, she said an electoral victory or loss would not wash it off.
Supporting Dasgupta, she asked why investigation by an appropriate agency like CBI was not conducted even after the Parliament’s Inquiry Committee recommended such a probe.
She said a CBI probe should be ordered but not before naming in the FIR the people who figure in the WikiLeaks.
Swaraj said the investigation by the Delhi Police was moving at a snail’s place and there has been not much progress in the three years after the case was registered.
She referred to the Inquiry Committee’s observation that Sanjeev Saxena was a “bribe giver wittingly or unwittingly” and said his role needed to be investigated further.
On the Prime Minister’s contention that correspondence between the US Embassy here and its government in Washington was “speculative, unverified and unverifiable”, the BJP leader said it amounted to “turning a blind eye to the truth”.
She asked why an Embassy official would name any minister or anybody else unnecessarily. “Did he have any enmity with the minister?”
Believing in the authenticity of the correspondence, the Leader of the Opposition referred to a TV interview of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in which he said that Singh was “misleading” by questioning the authenticity. This led to an uproar by Congress members who questioned the status of Assange.
Countering the Opposition contention, parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the Prime Minister’s statement was based on facts and that an “environment of crisis” was being created on the basis WikiLeaks documents which should be given no importance.
Contending that BJP was misinterpreting facts and exaggerating things, he asked whether the Opposition party had verified the contents of the WikiLeaks documents or whether it could do so.
“These are all wild allegations,” Bansal said, questioning how the Prime Minister can be made an accused on the basis of whatever the US Charge d’Affaires has written.
“You consider it the truth? ... Whenever you have attacked the Prime Minister, he has emerged stronger because he has that kind of personality,” he told the BJP.
The Congress leader defended the Prime Minister’s reference to the victory in 2009 Lok Sabha polls, saying there was nothing wrong in mentioning the electoral win.
BJP was raising the issue as it was not able to digest the UPA’s electoral victory in 2004 and 2009, he said.
Taking a dig at the main Opposition party, Bansal said the problem in BJP was of “JS ping pong (inferring turf war between Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj).
He referred to Parliament’s Inquiry Committee which had recommended probe against Sudheendra Kulkarni, former close aide of BJP leader L. K. Advani in the ‘cash-for-vote’ scam.
To this, BJP members, including Yashwant Sinha, said they wanted it and asked why the case against him was not pursued for the last three years.
Bansal targeted BJP for demanding CBI probe into it, saying it demanded investigation by the agency whenever it suited and otherwise it reposes no faith in it.
He praised Samajwadi Party for extending support during the 2008 Confidence Motion, saying Mulayam Singh Yadav had done so as he did not want instability in the country unlike the BJP by bringing down the government.