Vindication for Manmohan Singh as government wins trust vote (Final Roundup)

July 22nd, 2008 - 11:00 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) After days of tense standoff over the India-US nuclear deal, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday won majority support in parliament by a bigger margin than expected, shortly after three opposition MPs dramatically displayed wads of currency in the Lok Sabha alleging they had been bribed to abstain during the trust vote. After more than an hour of utter confusion in the Lok Sabha when Manmohan Singh could not give his final response to the confidence motion debate because of disruptions by opposition MPs demanding his resignation, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee brought the curtains down on two days of acrimony in the house by announcing the final result: 275 MPs in favour of the UPA and 256 against.

Ten MPs did not record their vote in the house of 531. Seven BJP MPs, two from the Telugu Desam Party and one from the Biju Janata Dal voted for the government motion.

The votes the Congress-led UPA eventually gained was more than the 272 needed to prove majority in the 545-member house where two seats are vacant and one member is barred from voting.

“The ayes have it, the ayes have it,” Chatterjee announced, bringing smiles on the face of Manmohan Singh, who began receiving congratulatory messages from scores of MPs, Congress president Sonia Gandhi included. At the same time, wild celebrations erupted in the headquarters of the Congress party in the heart of New Delhi.

A beaming prime minister told reporters after the result: “India is prepared to take its rightful place in the comity of nations.” The reference was to the nuclear deal, which the government can now move forward without any hiccups.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi echoed the sentiment: “I believe this nuclear deal is in the interest of the nation. I am proud of the PM.”

It was a dramatic turn of fortunes after a suspense-filled weekend. At one point it was felt that a divided but determined opposition was running neck and neck with the Congress-led UPA and those who came to its rescue after the Left called off its support to the UPA over the controversial nuclear deal.

The two-day debate also ended amid hostility - which also marked much of the proceedings - with Manmohan Singh unable to give his final speech because of noisy protests, primarily by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs. They were demanding the resignation of the prime minister over the sordid display of tainted money in the Lok Sabha.

“We knew all along that we will have a decisive margin,” Minister of State for Industries and Congress MP Ashwini Kumar said. “The Indo-US nuclear deal has been endorsed by this vote.”

Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, widely seen as the architect of the UPA victory, said the credit for the UPA’s success should clearly go to Manmohan Singh.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and National Conference president Omar Abdullah were the most effective speakers Tuesday. The former used his known wit with deadly effect particularly against the Left while the latter was at his forceful best. Another impressive speaker was Rahul Gandhi, who tried to connect his interactions with the poor in rural areas to India’s need for energy security and the larger nuclear deal.

But all of them - and everything else - suddenly got overshadowed by three BJP MPs - Ashok Argal (Morena), Faggan Singh Kulaste (Mandla) and Mahavir Bhagora (Salumber) who suddenly walked towards the speaker’s chair when Marxist Basudev Acharya was ending his speech, placed two brown and black leather bags on a table and pulled out thick bundles of 1,000 rupee denomination.

As the millions of Indians following the television proceedings across the country watched in horror, the MPs began to flash the tight bundles of money, triggering pandemonium in the house and leading to its adjournment.

The BJP MPs, in particular Kulaste, alleged that Amar Singh and Congress leader Ahmed Patel, an aide to Sonia Gandhi, were the masterminds behind the attempt to win them over so that they stay away from Tuesday evening’s confidence motion. Amar Singh and Patel angrily denied the charge.

The opposition and the 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.

Kulaste 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 to abstain from parliament so as to twist the numbers in the house in its favour. He said the three of them were paid Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million) as advance and were promised that the rest of the amount would follow.

The dramatic happening prompted BJP leader L.K. Advani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to demand the resignation of Manmohan Singh. He did not oblige, and in fact took an aggressive line in his final address.

In that speech, which he could not make but which he handed over to Speaker Chatterjee, Manmohan Singh took on two people: Advani and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat.

Rebutting Advani’s criticism that he was a weak prime minister, Manmohan Singh said sarcastically: “To fulfil his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government but on each occasion his astrologers have misled him… At his ripe old age, I do not expect Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake, and India’s sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come.”

In the case of Karat, who spearheaded the Left’s campaign against the government, Manmohan Singh said: “Our friends in the Left Front should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their general secretary.”

He also accused the Left of putting shackles in the conduct of foreign policy. “They wanted a veto over every single step of negotiations (with the International Atomic Energy Agency) which is not acceptable. They wanted me to behave as their bonded slave.”

The prime minister also came out strongly in support of the nuclear deal, saying it would promote energy security and end India’s nuclear isolation of decades. “Our strategic autonomy,” he asserted, “will never be compromised… All that we are committed to is a voluntary moratorium on further testing (of nuclear weapons).”

Like Monday, the final day of the debate Tuesday was marred by disruptions, forcing an exasperated Speaker Chatterjee to adjourn the house. He said: “The parliament of India has reached the lowest position, its nadir.”

The words, just before the BJP MPs trooped into the house carrying wads of cash, proved to be prophetic.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |

Subscribe