Indian parliament in tumult as MPs allege bribery (Lead)

July 22nd, 2008 - 7:22 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) Tumult gripped the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, Tuesday afternoon as three opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs suddenly appeared in the centre of the chamber and dramatically emptied bundles of currency notes to prove their contention that lawmakers were being bribed by the government ahead of the crucial trust vote. Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal was presiding over the house, trying to persuade Basudeb Acharya of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to end his speech as the house was running out of time, when Ashok Argal of the BJP walked rapidly to the table of parliament secretaries, accompanied by a colleague.

Both then placed two leather bags on the table and pulled out bundles of 1000 rupee notes, alleging bribery.

As the house - and the nation - watched in shock, speaker Atwal left his seat. In no time, a large number of MPs, mainly from the opposition benches, trooped towards the empty speaker’s chair, shouting slogans.

The BJP MPs raised slogans “UPA chor hai (the United Progressive Alliance are thieves), forcing the speaker to adjourn the house till 5 p.m.

In the din, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said : “This is all fictitious.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who initiated the two-day confidence motion Monday and was scheduled to reply to the debate in an hour before the voting, was not present in the house when all this happened.

Opposition Leader L.K. Advani demanded an enquiry into the manner in which money was allegedly paid to three of his party MPs ahead of crucial trust vote in parliament scheduled for 6 p.m.

“It is a serious matter and has to be enquired into at the highest level,” Advani told reporters outside parliament soon after the house was adjourned in tumult when the three BJP MPs — Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora - advanced to the table of the Lok Sabha secretary general and flashed bundle of Rs.1,000 notes from two large leather bags.

He, however, refused to say who paid the money, saying the MPs would speak for themselves.

The MPs said they were paid Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million/$250,000) each to stay away from the Lok Sabha later Tuesday and promised Rs.8 crore (Rs.80 million) after the conclusion of 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 (in the confidence vote),” a visibly agitated Advani told reporters outside Parliament House, as millions across India watched the television scenes in horror as the trust debate was being shown on live television by all news channels

Advani termed it a serious matter and demanded “a proper inquiry”.

He refused to say who had tried to bribe the MPs. “They themselves will tell the house who gave them the money.”

The former deputy prime minister said Argal was anguished when he learned that his name was being named as one of the MPs who would be abstaining from the floor test.

Advani said when Argal was offered money, he took the other two along. Argal is from Morena (Madhya Pradesh), Kulaste is from Mandla (Madhya Pradesh) and Bhagora is from Salember (Rajasthan).

Lalu Prasad sought a narco test of the three BJP MPs who claimed that they were offered Rs.1 crore each to abstain from the vote of confidence.

“The entire episode is concocted. There is no truth in it. It is a move taken out of frustration,” he told reporters outside parliament.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Prakash Karat said that all the allies of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA), other than the Left parties, have 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 it,” he thundered.

The Samajwadi Party, that was accused of doling out the money to induce MPs to abstain from the confidence vote that was turning out to be a cliffhanger, insisted that the whole incident was “stage managed” by the BJP.

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