Cash-for-votes scam: United Oppn trains gun at PM

Manmohan Singh
New Delhi, Mar 23: A united opposition today mounted attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the cash-for- votes scam wondering as to how he could wash his hands of the matter as he had headed the government in 2008 and was the ''biggest beneficiary'' of the trust vote.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj made a stinging attack on Singh in the Lok Sabha telling him that as head of the government he should take responsibility instead of making others scapegoat for the omissions and commissions of his regime.

"It is the habit of the Prime Minister to blame others. If it is price rise then (Agriculture Minister) Sharad Pawar is responsible, if it is 2G then (former Telecom Minister) A Raja is responsible and if it is Commonwealth Games then (Suresh) Kalmadi is to blame," she said.

"'I don't know anything, I am not aware of anything, there are coalition compulsions and I am not that much guilty as I am made out to be' ...the people are fed up with such excuses. They are asking why you are the Prime Minister," she said participating in a discussion.

"The issue involves your leadership," she said, quoting an Urdu couplet which means one should not make any excuse but tell how the caravan got looted. The Prime Minister was present in the House and was listening intently to the debate.

Earlier, initiating the discussion on the Prime Minister's statement on the Wikileak's expose in the cash-for-votes scam, first accessed by 'The Hindu' daily, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta accused Singh of resorting to "parliamentary piracy" to win the vote of confidence in 2008 and demanded that he come clean.

He said the report of a Parliamentary panel on the scam had clearly recommended "investigation by an appropriate agency" into the alleged attempts to purchase votes to win the trust vote on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

"It's a case of parliamentary piracy because some members were hijacked. The suspicion is that organised group of political gangsters were at work," he said.

Dasgupta's remarks terming the alleged scam as an act of "parliamentary piracy" and the handiwork of "organised groups of political gangsters" drew an angry retort from the ruling benches.

As the CPI leader demanded a probe in to largescale absenteeism in the opposition benches during the trust vote, ruling members, including Congress member Raj Babbar, were on their feet protesting the reference.

Taking objection to Prime Minister's remarks that the UPA had returned to power even after the alleged scam, Dasgupta said "electoral verdict cannot condone criminality if it has been perpetrated."

He said the Congress had polled only 25 per cent votes in the General Elections but did not want to draw any conclusion from it. "I make no conclusion. I donot say it is a minority government," he said.

However, this contention by the Prime Minister gives credence to the 'might is right' theory. "Might is right is a dangerous proposition that does not fit-in in a democracy," he said.

Last week, the Prime Minister had hit out at the opposition for giving "dignity" to an "unverified communication", and pointed out that the Congress had won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and that the tally of the Opposition parties had reduced considerably.

Despatches by American diplomats, leaked by WikiLeaks and published in a national daily, purportedly claim that payoffs had been made to MPs to ensure a majority for the Congress-led government in the confidence vote following differences over the India-US nuclear deal in 2008.

As per the cables, a US diplomat was told Rs 50-60 crore was kept aside by the Congress party to get some opposition members of the Lok Sabha on board before the trust vote in July 2008 during the first tenure of the UPA government.

"I concede that the PM was precise in his statement and the statement was cogent. PM was very prompt in throwing the ball in the court of the Opposition, his tone was very firm, normally he is not. He was firm in rejecting the complaints on cash-for-votes during the last no confidence motion," said Dasgupta.

The CPI leader said linguistic fervour was used to conceal the facts. "Strong is the language of the weak and persuasive is the language of the strong," he said

Disputing Singh's contention that neither any Congress member nor anyone from the government indulged in any illegal act, Swaraj insisted that bribe was paid and asked who its "beneficiary" was, "whose government was saved" and "who had to remain the Prime Minister".

Taking a dig at Singh, she questioned why he says he is unaware whenever an issue is raised.

Amid repeated disruptions by Congress members, she said after Parliament Inquiry Committee had recommended further probe into the scam, Delhi Police Crime Branch had registered a case in January 2009 and the Central Forensics Laboratory had verified the authenticity of tapes of the sting operation.

Noting that Singh had not mentioned this in his statement, Swaraj said, "Nobody tells you anything? This is why I have given notice for Breach of Privilege Motion."

Maintaining that she did not believe that Singh did not know who was involved, she said even if he was unaware, "he was equally guilty by the logic that a beneficiary of a crime is as responsible as the one who commits it."

Pointing out that Singh was the "mukhiya (head)" of the government, she said he should end the "habit of blaming others" as such an attitude will work no longer.

On the Prime Minister's contention that the Congress victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections had proved that there was nothing wrong with the 2008 Confidence Motion, Swaraj said an electoral victory cannot condone a wrongdoing.

Dubbing Singh's argument as "illogical", she said if it was accepted, it would amount to adding a "new chapter" in "criminality in politics".

Asking the Prime Minister as to from where he got "this argument", the BJP leader sought to make her point by referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots over which Chief Minister Narendra Modi is facing attack.

"After the Gujarat riots, Modi won elections twice but still Congress had not let him off... The (Gujarat) state police, CBI and SIT (Special Investigation Team) have given clean chit to Modi, but this aspect about mandate does not apply there, according to you (Congress)," Swaraj said.

She said it is irrespective of the fact that the BJP never sought to take that plea.
Swaraj also referred to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and said that despite the unprecedented mandate of over 400 seats obtained by Congress in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections, the taint of communal violence against it is yet to go away.

Insisting that India's democracy had been "shamed" by the 'cash-for-votes' scam, she said an electoral victory or loss would not wash it off.

Supporting Dasgupta, she asked why investigation by an appropriate agency like CBI was not conducted even after the Parliament's Inquiry Committee recommended such a probe.

She said a CBI probe should be ordered but not before naming in the FIR the people who figure in the WikiLeaks.


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