Go Manmohan, says opposition after WikiLeaks expose (Intro-Roundup)

March 17th, 2011 - 11:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 17 (IANS) 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, saying that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had lost the moral right to govern.

However, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani ruled out moving a no-confidence motion against the 21-month-old UPA II.

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 — said 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 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 in 2008.

Nachiketa Kapur, a political aide of Congress leader Satish Sharma, is quoted in the leaked cables as saying that a fund of Rs.50 crore had been formed to pay MPs.

According to the leaked cable: “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 government.”

“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.”

While Sharma has denied he had any political aide by that name, Kapur explicitly denied working for the Congress leader.

The timing of the old cash-for-votes scam resurfacing 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.”

However, Advani said there was no decision to move a no-confidence motion against the government. “The people are not with the government,” he added.

Advani’s colleague Sushma Swaraj recalled that three BJP MPs had brought cash to the house in 2008 during the trust vote in the Lok Sabha. But then speaker Somnath Chatterjee had ordered an inquiry against them instead of taking cognizance of 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.”

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said that the “Congress leadership, including the prime minister, cannot escape their responsibilities in this gross act of political malfeasance and bribery”.

In a statement, the party politburo said the “report sent by the US official should be a basis for the filing of a first information report and an investigations against Satish Sharma and Nachiketa Kapur.”

But, hours after the newspaper report and the trouble in parliament, neither the prime minister nor his party came forward to deny the charge.

Sources said the basic statement may be made by the party leaders than the ministers.

Instead of a strong defence, detractors said, the government responded by only saying it could neither confirm nor deny the damaging revelations.

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 parliament committee to probe the 2008 cash for votes scam, said in his defence: “…We acted on the available evidence.”

Former SP leader Amar Singh, accused of being the middleman in the scandal, said he didn’t see substance in the allegations. And RLD chief Ajit Singh, denying claims in the US diplomatic cables, pointed out that his party had voted against the government in 2008.

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