New Delhi: He had not authorized anyone to purchase any votes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clarified on March 18, a day after he came under attack for alleged disclosures on WikiLeaks that his government had bought MPs ahead of the 2008 trust vote. He made a similar statement in the Rajya Sabha.
“I have no knowledge of any such purchases. I have not authorized anyone to purchase any votes. I am not aware of any act of purchasing any votes,” the Prime Minister said at the India Today conclave.
He said he was “absolutely certain” that he was not involved in “any of these transactions.”
US diplomatic cables leaked on WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper on March 17 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: “Shar-ma’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.”
Meanwhile, Shiro-mani Akali Dal members admitted on March 18 that attempts were made to bribe their ranks in exchange for votes.
The party’s Ropar MP Sukhdev Singh Libra, now a Congress MP, had eventually broken away to abstain from voting on the PM’s confidence motion on July 22, 2008.
He was among the 10 absentees who made the job of the UPA easy. For not voting, Libra was expelled from the Akali Dal on July 23 that year and subsequently joined the Congress.
The 10 abstentions that helped the UPA (which got 275 votes against 256 that the Opposition got) that day included BJP’s Chandrabhan Singh (Madhya Pradesh), Manorama Madhavaraj (Karnataka), Kishan Lal Diler (Uttar Pradesh) and Bahubhai Katara (Gujarat), MNF’s Vanlalzawla, SAD’s SS Libra, Trinamool’s Mamata Bannerjee, JD-U’s PP Koya, Shiv Sena’s Tukaram Ganpatram Renge Patil and TDP’s D.K. Audikesavulu.
Also the nation was shocked on July 22, 2008, when Ashok Argal, Fagan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora – all BJP MPs – interrupted a debate in the Lok Sabha on the confidence motion which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had moved in the wake of the row over the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.
The troika came to the well of the House and took out wads of currency from two bags and placed them on the table of the Secretary-General, alleging that the money – Rs 1 crore in total – had been given to one of them at the behest of Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh to abstain from voting on the confidence motion and thus save the United Progressive Alliance government. It had triggered uproar in the Lok Sabha, but later in the evening the government had won the trust vote.
Nearly three years later, the cash-for-vote scam returned to haunt the Congress-led UPA government, thanks to the WikiLeaks’ expose of a classified diplomatic cable sent from the American Embassy in New Delhi to the US Department of State on July 17, 2008, just a few days ahead of the trial of strength in the LS.
It brought back under focus the report of the committee that the then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had constituted to probe into the cash-for-vote scandal.