The embattled Manmohan Singh government Thursday faced its worst
crisis yet with the opposition joining hands in asking it to
resign immediately following allegations on WikiLeaks that the
Congress had bought MPs to win the 2008 trust vote.
The clamour for the government's resignation, which forced
adjournments in both houses of parliament, saw the Left parties,
the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi
Party (SP) amongst others to say that the United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) had lost the moral right to govern.
The government -- already under siege over multiple corruption
scandals, including the 2G spectrum allocation, the Commonwealth
Games (CWG) and the appointment of P.J. Thomas as central
vigilance commissioner -- responded only by saying it could not
comment as the cables between the US government and its missions
abroad were inaccessible for it.
US diplomatic cables leaked on WikiLeaks and published by The
Hindu newspaper purportedly say that that payoffs had been made to
MPs to ensure a majority for the Congress-led government in the
confidence vote over the India-US nuclear deal.
Nachiketa Kapur, a political aide of Congress leader Satish
Sharma, is quoted as saying that a fund of Rs.50 crore had been
formed to pay MPs.
"Sharma's political aide mentioned to an embassy staff member in
an aside on July 16 that Ajit Singh's (Rashtriya Lok Dal) RLD had
been paid Rs.10 crore for each of their four MPs to support the
"Kapur showed the embassy employee two chests containing cash and
said that around Rs.50-60 crore was lying around the house for use
as pay-offs," according to the leaked cable.
While Sharma has denied he had any political aide by that name,
Kapur explicity denied working for the Congress leader.
More than two years after the trust vote, the old cash-for-votes
scam had resurfaced. And the timing could not have been worse,
with crucial elections to four states and a union territory less
than a month away.
Unlike the case of former communications minister A. Raja or CWG
chief Suresh Kalmadi, the government has no way of backing out of
this one as it is implicated directly, said analysts.
Accusing the Congress-led government of "political immorality",
senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: "UPA I survived on the
strength of political sin. The PM has no moral authority or
legitimacy to lead the country. He must quit forthwith."
This has come to light now, said his colleague Sushma Swaraj,
recalling that three BJP MPs had brought cash to the house in 2008
during the trust vote. But then speaker Somnath Chatterjee had
ordered an inquiry against them instead of taking cognisance of
the matter who was distributing the wads of cash.
SP's Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had voted in favour of the UPA
government in 2008, said: "I had also played a role in saving the
government. This defames even me."
Left MP Gurudas Dasgupta added in an equally scathing note: "This
is the murder of democracy. If the prime minister does not deny
this he should resign immediately."
But, hours after the newspaper report and the trouble in
parliament, neither the prime minister nor his party came forward
to deny the charge.
Instead of a strong defence, detractors said, the government
responded by only saying it could neither confirm nor deny the
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement in the Rajya
Sabha: "There is a diplomatic immunity to what a sovereign nation
discusses with its mission abroad, no access can be made to them,
government cannot confirm or deny it.
"Every Lok Sabha is sovereign in its period; whatever happened in
14th Lok Sabha, cannot be dragged in 15th Lok Sabha. The 14th Lok
Sabha has been dissolved."
Mukherjee also said the revelations were not admissible evidence
in any court of law.
BJP leader and lawyer Arun Jaitley disagreed: "Diplomatic immunity
may be available to US diplomats, it can certainly not be claimed
by government of India for a crime committed by Indians in India."
As the darkening clouds of scandal swirled, Kishore Chandra Deo,
the Congress MP who headed the committee to probe the 2008 cash
for votes scam, said in his defence: "...We acted on the available
Former SP leader Amar Singh, accused of being the middleman in the
scandal, said he didn't see substance in the allegations. And Ajit
Singh too denied the reports.