Corruption scandal hits Indian parliament ahead of trust vote (Second Lead)

July 22nd, 2008 - 9:56 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) In the worst corruption scandal to hit the Indian parliament, three opposition MPs Tuesday forked out wads of currency in the Lok Sabha alleging they were bribed to abstain during a trust vote to enable a victory for the Manmohan Singh government over the India-US nuclear deal. As the nation watched the live telecast of the often acrimonious trust debate, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs Ashok Argal (Morena), Faggan Singh Kulaste (Mandla) and Mahavir Bhagora (Salumber) suddenly walked towards the speaker’s chair, placed two brown and black leather bags on a table and pulled out thick bundles of Rs.1,000 denomination.

Other opposition BJP MPs quickly crowded around them, some of them joining the melee. A few started shouting slogans against the government. While Argal and Mandla are from Madhya Pradesh, Bhagora is from Rajasthan.

The BJP MPs, in particular Kulaste, quickly alleged that Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh and Congress leader Ahmed Patel, a confidant of party chief Sonia Gandhi, were the masterminds behind the attempt to win them over so they stay away from Tuesday evening’s confidence motion.

The opposition and the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) got into an ugly public spat, blaming one another for the sordid scenes that leaders from both sides alleged had dealt a huge blow to India’s democratic credentials.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who has been spearheading a spirited campaign to unseat the government in alliance with the Left and other regional parties, demanded Manmohan Singh’s resignation over the episode.

In the Lok Sabha, after presiding over a quick meeting of leaders from the treasury and opposition benches as well as the three MPs, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee told the house that it was “a sad day in the history of parliament” and announced that the trust vote would take place later Tuesday after Manmohan Singh’s final speech.

A furious Amar Singh - who has been the most vocal politician since the Samajwadi Party moved in to bail out the beleaguered government following the withdrawal of support by the Left - denied charges of wrongdoing.

“Let them prove that I tried to bribe them,” he told an army of reporters. Congress leaders alleged that the BJP was trying to occupy the high ground because it knew, as the principal opposition party, that it was set to lose the trust vote.

Kulaste, one of the three BJP MPs, told reporters that he and a colleague were invited to Amar Singh’s house the previous night and promised Rs.9 crore (Rs.90 million/over $2 million) each if they kept away from parliament Tuesday so as to twist the numbers in the 545-member house in its favour when the government appeared to be holding only a slight edge over the opposition.

Kulaste said the three of them were paid Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million) as advance and promised that the rest of the amount would follow after the trust vote.

“In my parliamentary career, I have never come across such a sad situation where MPs were offered money to abstain from voting,” a visibly upset Advani said soon after the scenes were flashed on television screens.

The commotion began when Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal was trying to persuade Marxist MP Basudeb Acharya to end his speech. Atwal immediately left the seat and adjourned the house until 5 p.m.

The Congress angrily accused the opposition of trying to whip up a drama.

“This is a scripted story,” charged Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan. “The issue has been decided in favour of the UPA. The whole project is to show them (BJP) on a moral high ground.”

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat said the Left parties had the “evidence, including the date, time and other records” of the alleged bribing of the BJP MPs.

He said barring the Left parties, all the allies of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) had been offered money. “We have the evidence, including the date, time and other records. This is a mockery of parliament… The Lok Sabha should immediately take action against this.”

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