PM rubbishes cash-for-votes charges in Parliament

New Delhi: Rejecting as "wild" the charges that bribe was paid during the 2008 Confidence Motion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took on the Opposition for creating hue and cry over diplomatic communications, saying it was a "dangerous" thing to do.

In an uncharacteristic combative manner, Singh particularly targeted L K Advani, saying the BJP leader thought becoming Prime Minister was his "birth right" and hence had never "forgiven me". He asked Advani to wait for three-and-a-half years for his chance.

Replying to a short duration debate in both Houses of Parliament over his statement on the WikiLeaks documents, first accessed by `The Hindu` daily, Singh said the government could not verify the authenticity of correspondence between the US Embassy here and its government in Washington.

Referring to the probe by a Parliament`s Committee in 2008 into allegations of `cash-for-votes` scam, the Prime Minister said it had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that money was paid to purchase MPs.

"I am convinced that taking the report as a whole, this is a correct inference," Singh said, winding up the debate during which he came under sharp attack from the Opposition which even questioned why he continued to be the Prime Minister if was "not aware" of developments involving his government.

"I leave it to the good sense of this House to decide for itself whether the report of the Committee in any way substantiates the wild allegations levelled by some Hon`ble Members of the Opposition," Singh said amid thumping of desks.

Raising questions over the authenticity of the American correspondence mentioned in the WikiLeaks website, the Prime Minister warned that believing in a communication sent by some official in an Embassy was a "dangerous thought".

He maintained that nobody from the Congress or the government was involved in any "transaction" during the 2008 Confidence Motion and neither had anybody been authorised to engage in any such transaction.

During his reply in the Lok Sabha, Singh took on Advani and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj.

"This is not for the first time that I have faced in my Parliamentary career the Opposition onslaught of the type we have witnessed of late. I have had to go through that as Finance Minister and as Prime Minister. The main Opposition party, right from 2004, adopted the attitude that we are an usurper," he said.

Taking a dig at Advani, Singh said the BJP veteran "believes that being Prime Minister was his birth right and therefore, he has never forgiven me… All I can say to Advaniji is that people of India have voted us to power in free and fair elections. Please wait for another three-and-a-half years."

The swipe was followed by thumping of desks by the Treasury benches and peals of laughter. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee were seen smiling as was Advani himself.

"I reiterate that it is not possible for the Government of India to confirm the veracity or the contents of such communications," the Prime Minister said.

"If they (communications) exist, they would be communications from US diplomats stationed in Delhi to their government in Washington. It is not open to us to enquire from either of the two regarding the communications they exchanged among themselves," Singh emphasised.

Referring to his statement of March 18, he recalled as having said that many of the persons referred in those communications have strongly denied their veracity.

On the charges of bribery, Singh said apart from rejecting the allegations, he had also drawn the attention of Parliament to the fact that the allegations were investigated by a Committee constituted by the 14th Lok Sabha which had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion of bribery.

The Committee, however, found the evidence given before the Committee by three MPs — Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora — involved in this episode as unconvincing, and suggested that their role in the matter needs to be investigated by investigating agencies, he said.

In this regard, he also referred to the statement made by the then Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on December 16, 2008 in the House in which he had asked the Home Minister to get the matter probed further.

"The matter was referred to the Delhi Police for investigation. Further investigation is in progress," he said.

In the Lok Sabha, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha pointed out that Singh had said on March 18 that he was personally not involved in any purchase of MPs nor authorised anyone to do so and hours later said the charges were speculative and unverifiable.

To this, the Prime Minister said he was responding to a specific question at a function whether he was involved or not in any such act.