PM rejects Wiki charges of bribery

New Delhi: Strongly rejecting allegations of bribery during the 2008 Trust Vote, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said nobody from the Congress or the government engaged in any "unlawful act" and the charges were "unverified and speculative".

Making a statement in both Houses of Parliament, an assertive Singh hit back at the opposition for raising "old charges that have been debated, discussed and rejected by the people of India."

"The government rejects the allegations absolutely and firmly," he said in identical statements in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, referring to the charges in the WikiLeaks that bribes were paid to win the Confidence Motion in July 2008.

Amid thumping of desks by the Treasury Benches, Singh said, "No one from the Congress or government indulged in any unlawful act."

Raising questions over the correspondence between the US Embassy and the State Department in Washington, the Prime Minister said, "The government cannot confirm the veracity, content or even the existence of such communication."

To press his contention, he said those who have been named by the WikiLeaks have "stoutly rejected" the charges.

Hitting out at the Opposition, he said it was "unfortunate" that it continues to raise the "old charges", giving "dignity" to the "speculative, unverified and unverifiable" communications purportedly between the US Embassy and its government in Washington.

He pointed out that the UPA-I had won the Confidence Motion in July 2008 with 275 votes in favour and 256 against.

These allegations of bribery were investigated by a committee of the 14th Lok Sabha which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion.

"I am disappointed that the Opposition has forgotten what happened thereafter. The Opposition repeated the allegations of bribery and how did the people respond," he said, citing the increase in Congress seats from 141 to 206 as compared to BJP whose tally declined from 138 to 116 and that of Left parties from 59 to 34.

In the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj wanted to ask some questions but was disallowed by Speaker Meira Kumar.

Quoting rules, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said clarifications could not be sought and hit out at Opposition, asking whether the government should listen to everything they say.

The Speaker said if the Opposition wanted to raise some issue, it should give a proper notice.

The Opposition was dissatisfied and created uproar, following which the House was adjourned for over an hour, till 3.30 PM.

In the Rajya Sabha too, Opposition members wanted to seek clarifications from the Prime Minister after his statement.

However, Chairman Hamid Ansari disallowed, saying rules did not permit it as Singh had not made a suo motu statement but had done so in response to the demands by members.

Clarifications can be sought only if a suo motu statement is made, Ansari ruled.

This triggered uproar by Opposition members after which Ansari adjourned the House for 20 minutes till 3 PM.

Soon after Prime Minister completed his statement in the Rajya Sabha, identical to the one made in the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley raised his hands to seek certain clarifications.

Like in the morning, Congress members disallowed Jaitley from speaking.

Chairman Hamid Ansari quoted a 24-year-old ruling which "unambiguously" did not allow clarification if a statement by the government was made on demand.

He said only on suo motu statement, the members can seek clarification in the Upper House.

Jaitley joined by his party members and supported by the Left vehemently protested Ansari disallowing members to seek clarification.

The LoP said, "the Prime Minister is answerable and accountable to Parliament… He cannot shield behind the unprecedented ruling you (Chairman) are bringing."

Jaitley said it has been conventional in this House that whenever a statement was made, clarification was permitted.

This was even more important when the situation was extraordinary.

Supporting Jaitley, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury asked why this ruling was not invoked all these years.

Both Jaitley and Yechury said the convention of members seeking clarifications on government statements was followed.

In the midst of uproar, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister said there was no question of the Prime Minister not being answerable to Parliament.

The opposition demanded a statement and the Prime Minister has made a statement. "We cannot go by what they wish.

Government cannot accept the allegation," he said.

Amid din, the House was adjourned for 20 minutes.

When it reassembled, Jaitley said the opposition "cannot be gagged in this manner".

BJP members then trooped into the Well and started shouting slogans like `tanashahi nahin chalegi, dadagiri nahin chalegi (no dictatorship, no bullying)`.

They were countered by Congress members leading to noisy scenes. After laying of papers in the midst of chaos, Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan adjourned the House for the day.

As soon as the Lok Sabha reassembled at 3.30 pm, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said the Prime Minister`s statement begins a new chapter in Indian politics – that of committing wrongs and not claiming responsibility.

He requested the Speaker to allow seeking of clarifications from the Prime Minister.

All the while Congress members kept countering the opposition attack.

Inder Singh Namdhari, who was in the Chair, requested the agitated opposition members to allow him to take up the Private Members` business, today being a Friday.

But an unrelenting opposition kept up with its demand, following which the House was adjourned till Tuesday.