LAME excuses and half lies traded by the Prime Minister to obfuscate the “cash for vote” scandal have severely undermined his credibility or whatever is left of it. Initially, he made himself unavailable to comment on the highly explosive issue pertaining to bribing members of Parliament to win the Trust vote in 2008. The vote was necessitated by the withdrawal of support from the UPA-Government by Left parties over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Dr Manmohan Singh broke his silence at a public function by saying, “I have no knowledge of any purchase of votes. I have not been involved in any of these transactions. I have not authorised anyone”. It was an ambiguous statement in which the Prime Minister made a desperate effort to distance himself from the crime against democracy but he didn’t categorically rubbish the charge that votes were purchased. Further, he declined to speak on the WikiLeaks and argued that the affected persons had already commented on it. Unconvincing denials by those who were allegedly involved in the scandal convinced no one. However, within hours of his defensive statement, the Prime Minister changed track and read out a statement in both House of Parliament to categorically rule out the involvement of anybody in the ruling party and the Government in any unlawful act during the trust vote in 2008. No one in the ruling party is willing to admit that Sonia Gandhi was aghast at his first statement.
Prime Minister’s arguments are mere technicalities, lies and half-truths. His claim that the committee constituted by 14th Lok Sabha had concluded there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion of bribery is at variance with truth. The Committee headed by Congress leader V Kishore Chandra Deo had also concluded that Sanjeev Sexana was wittingly or unwittingly a bribe giver and that he didn’t enjoy immunity under Article 106 of the Constitution. In fact, Sexana was caught on the Camera handing over money to a BJP MP. The Congress-dominated committee had recommended further probe in the matter by an appropriate agency. Why did the Government ignore this recommendation? Did it apprehend that any further investigation might reveal the identity of those behind the racket? Deo’s argument that no case of bribery could be made out as the three BJP MPs had voted in accordance with the party whip is ridiculous. In this case, the bribe was paid but the taker was a part of the sting operation. Ajit Singh is economic with truth when he claims that his party had only three MPs in the House whereas the WikiLeaks talks of four MPs belonging to his party having been bribed. He conveniently forgets that his party’s strength had gone up to four after a member belonging to Samajwadi Party had joined him. That eventually his party MPs voted against the motion doesn’t prove anything. Satish Sharma’s aide had been quoted by WikiLeaks to say, “Money was no consideration but whether those who took money would vote for the Government was of deep concern”. How right he was!
One of the most disingenuous observations made by the Prime Minister is that Congress Party’s good performance in 2009 polls proved that the people had rejected the opposition charge of bribery. This single argument has brought him down several notches in public esteem. Now Dr Singh and former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav are on the same page. Long years ago, Yadav had claimed that his party’s victory in Bihar elections was his exoneration in the fodder scam by the people of the state. Contrast this with the principled stand L K Advani took when he was wrongly implicated in the Jain Hawala Case. He immediately resigned his seat in Parliament and didn’t seek re-election till he was exonerated by the judiciary. Prime Minister is behaving as if he had won a referendum on “cash for votes” issue. “Cash for votes” was not the core issue in the 2009 polls. Several factors, including the collapse of regional parties and consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the Congress, led to the party’s partial revival. Can the PM claim that his party would have won 200+ seats if the information made public by the WikiLeaks were available in public domain before the polls? If Dr Singh’s contention that victory and defeat in elections prove or disprove allegations of corruption is accepted, the corollary is that the Congress Party’s demoralising defeat in 1989 Parliamentary polls was a verdict that Rajiv Gandhi had taken bribe in the Bofor’s deal. After all, corruption in high places was the core issue in the said polls.
WikiLeaks’ Editor in Chief Julian Assange has dismissed Prime Minister’s contention as the “behaviour of guilty men”. He told NDTV Chairman Pranoy Roy in a televised interview that the attempt of the Prime Minister and his Government was to distort the record to fool the public about the nature of the material. He asserted that there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the cables were “authentic”. If the cable on bribery was incorrect, Assange said, US Ambassador in India will have a lot to answer for. WikiLeaks reported that Nachiketa Kapur, an aide of Congress leader Satish Sharma who it identified as “a very close friend of the Gandhi family”, showed US embassy staff two chests of cash and said Rs 50-60 crores were lying around the house for buying support of MPs to win the trust vote in 2008. Sharma himself told US political counselor that PM and others were working on US-based Sant Singh Chatwal to work on Akali Dal (Ultimately one Akali MP did vote with Congress and was expelled by the party). US diplomats have publicly stated that normally diplomatic dispatches were carefully written and approved by Ambassadors or their deputies. Even the USA that is deeply upset over the leaks has not challenged the veracity of the cables. It is only the Indian Prime Minister who says it can’t confirm the veracity, contents and even the existence of such communications. The Government can, if it has the will, find out the identity of the person in the US Embassy who claimed he was shown money kept around the house to buy MPs and, if necessary, can request USA to withdraw immunity of the diplomat, if he is indeed a diplomat, to help the country find out the truth behind this grave fraud on democracy and the Constitution.
The “cash for votes” scandal was in public domain even before the confidence motion was voted upon. A TV channel had recorded the murky deal in which money was being transferred to persuade three BJP MPs to either vote for the motion or abstain. The WikiLeaks has not only resurrected the issue but also provided further information about the bribery. A thorough enquiry by an independent agency monitored by the Supreme Court to bring to justice people and parties that were behind this scandal is called for. A hugely corrupt Government shouldn’t be allowed to sweep the scandal under the carpet. Let the people stand up and demand action.