Disclosures made by the WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu continued to rock both Houses of Parliament as a united Opposition on Wednesday slammed the UPA government over the “cash-for-votes” scam. It trained its guns on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he happened to be the “biggest beneficiary” of the trust vote he sought in July 2008.
Raising a discussion in the Lok Sabha on Dr. Singh's March 18 statement on The Hindu' s report made under Rule 193, which does not entail voting, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj launched a sharp attack on the Prime Minister, saying as head of the government he could not shirk his responsibility. Dr. Singh was intently listening to the discussion.
Objecting to his description of the WikiLeaks cables as “unverified, speculative and unverifiable,” she said the disclosures could not be dismissed in such a manner.
“It is the habit of the Prime Minister to blame others. If it is price rise, then Sharad Pawar [Agriculture Minister] is responsible; if it is 2G, then it is A. Raja [former Telecom Minister] and if it is Commonwealth Games scam, then [Suresh] Kalmadi is to be blamed.”
Ms. Swaraj said people were fed up with the Prime Minister's excuses like “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.” She said people were asking, “If you do not know anything, then why are you the Prime Minister?”
Amid frequent interruptions by Congress members, she said that after the Parliament Inquiry Committee had recommended further probe into the cash-for-votes scam, the Delhi Police Crime Branch registered a case in January 2009 and the Central Forensic Science Laboratory verified the authenticity of the tapes of a sting operation.
Pointing out that the Prime Minister had not mentioned this in his statement, Ms. Swaraj said: “Nobody tells you anything? This is why I have given notice of a breach of privilege motion.”
The Opposition leader also objected to the Prime Minister's reference, in his statement, to the 2009 electoral victory of the Congress, saying it was a dangerous argument. For, a poll victory could not wash the stains of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots on the Congress.
Ms. Swaraj said India's democracy was “shamed” by the ‘cash-for-votes' scam and an electoral victory or loss would not wash it off.
Earlier, initiating the discussion, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta accused the Prime Minister of having resorted to “parliamentary piracy” to win the vote of confidence in 2008 and demanded that he come clean.
The parliamentary panel report had recommended “investigation by an appropriate agency” into the alleged attempts to purchase votes to win the trust vote, he pointed out.
“It's a case of parliamentary piracy because some members were hijacked. The suspicion is that an organised group of political gangsters was at work,” Mr. Dasgupta said even as his remarks evoked angry protests from the treasury benches.
As the CPI leader demanded a probe into the large-scale absenteeism among opposition members during the trust vote, ruling party members including the Congress' Raj Babbar, Sanjay Nirupam, Annu Tandon and Mahabal Mishra were on their feet protesting the reference.
“Might is right”
Mr. Dasgupta said “electoral verdict cannot condone criminality if it has been perpetrated.” However, Dr. Singh's argument gave credence to the “might is right” theory, a dangerous proposition in a functional democracy.
“I concede that the Prime Minister was precise in his statement and the statement was cogent. He was very prompt in throwing the ball in the court of the Opposition, his tone was very firm and he was firm in rejecting the complaints on cash-for-votes,” Mr. Dasgupta said adding a “linguistic fervour” was used to conceal the facts.
Did you verify documents?
Defending the government, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said Dr. Singh's statement was based on facts and accused the Opposition of creating an “environment of crisis” on the basis of WikiLeaks documents which should not be given any importance.
Contending that the BJP was misinterpreting the facts, he asked whether the main Opposition had verified the contents of the WikiLeaks documents or whether it could do so.
“You consider it the truth? ... Whenever you attacked the Prime Minister, he has emerged stronger because he has that kind of personality.”
Mr. Bansal said there was nothing wrong in the Prime Minister mentioning about the 2009 electoral win. He said the BJP was raising the issue as it was not able to digest the UPA's victory in 2004 and again in 2009.
In an oblique reference to the ‘turf war' in the BJP, Mr. Bansal said the “problem is within” and appealed to it to rely on facts and not give credence to “wild allegations.”
When he pointed out that the Parliament Inquiry Committee had recommended a probe against Sudheendra Kulkarni, former close aide of BJP leader L.K. Advani in the ‘cash-for-vote' scam, the BJP members including Yashwant Sinha countered, asking why the case had not been pursued for the last three years.