Combative Manmohan refutes Opposition charges of buying MPs (Intro-roundup)

March 23rd, 2011 - 11:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 23 (IANS) The political rift in parliament widened Wednesday with the opposition launching a stinging attack on Manmohan Singh for citing the 2009 electoral victory to defend allegations that the Congress bought MPs to win the 2008 trust vote and the prime minister reiterating that his government was not involved in any “illegal act.”

Congress leaders in the two houses of Parliament mounted a counter-attack on the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and accused it of staging a drama during the 2008 trust vote to destabalise the government.

An unusually combative Manmohan Singh castigated the opposition and rejected the “wild” charges of bribery after the Left and the BJP attacked him for his not-guilty statement in the US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

The prime minister had in his March 18 statement refuted the charges made in the “speculative, unverified and unverifiable” diplomatic communications and said the people had rejected the bribery allegations by returning his government to power in the 2009 elections.

“I am convinced that taking the report as a whole, this is a correct inference,” Manmohan Singh said in reply to a heated debate in the Lok Sabha. He made an identical statement in the Rajya Sabha.

He said he was leaving “it to the good sense of this house to decide whether the report of the committee in any way substantiates the wild allegations”.

Amid thumping of desks by MP’s of the Congress and alliance partners, an animated prime minister, with a smile on his face, said it was “not for the first time” he was facing the wrath of the opposition. “I have had to go through that as finance minister and as prime minister. The main opposition, right from 2004, adopted the attitude that we are a usurper.”

Manmohan Singh also took a dig at his known bitter critic, veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani who often accuses him of being the weakest prime minister.

“Advaniji believes that prime ministership is his birthright. He has not forgiven me. All I can say to Advaniji is that the people of India have voted us to power in free and fair elections. Please wait for another three-and-a-half years.” Advani merely smiled.

As the opposition MPs heard him silently, the ruling benches echoed with loud thumping of desks and peals of laughter. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee were seen smiling and nodding their heads in agreement.

Manmohan Singh’s colleagues - Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha and P. Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha - sought to turn the tables on the BJP by accusing it of trying to destablalise the government through the cash-for-vote controversy during the 2008 trust vote.

Chidambaram referred to reports on the site of a newsweekly and said that the sting operation showing attempts to influence some MPs by monetary inducement was not an independent journalistic exercise but “a deliberate operation committed in connivance with a political party.”

“This was not a sting operation.. It was a deliberate attempt to destabalise a sitting government through engineering a situation where three MPs will be part of operation after identifying buyers for that operation,” Chidambaram said.

Sibal said in the Lok Sabha that BJP leader Jaswant Singh had charged L. K. Advani with being at the “centre” of the entire “drama” relating to cash-for-votes scam.

The prime minister’s pointed reaction came after the BJP and the Left parties attacked him for his not-guilty statement made on March 18 following the WikiLeaks expose and accused him of concealing facts.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, citing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat, said Manmohan Singh was rewriting criminal jurisprudence by bringing in the electoral victory to defend his government.

Attacking the prime minister, the BJP leader asked him if he was willing to apply the same yardstick to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in that state.

“Election victory or defeat cannot wipe away any crime. The episode has shamed India. It has blemished our democratic tradition,” she said.

Communist Party of India (CPI) Lok Sabha leader Gurudas Dasgupta, who initiated the debate, said the prime minister’s justification of highlighting the electoral victory after the 2008 episode “cannot hide criminality if it has been committed”.

The upper house also witnessed an early afternoon debate that was less noisy than the animated one in the lower house.

Sushma Swaraj’s Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley and Home Minister P. Chidambaram exchanged heated arguments.

Jaitley said: “If the government of India wants to verify and you have honesty of purpose, they are verifiable because some of the evidence is very strong evidence in a criminal case of bribe-giver.” He alleged that the shortfall in members during the trust vote was covered by “retail purchase of parliamentarians”. Accusing the government of a cover-up in the cash-for-votes scam, he said that the party MPs figuring in the sting operation had taken the correct decision of reporting the inducement efforts being made on them to the party leadership.

Chidambaram said that Delhi police crime branch probing the cash-for-votes case will also look at the fresh reports brought out by the newsweekly.

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