The 2008 'cash-for-votes' scam on Thursday returned to haunt the United Progressive Alliance, with a united opposition in Parliament demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in view of fresh charges that bribe was paid during the trust vote, but the government was dismissive.
Citing correspondence between the United States embassy and the government revealed by the WikiLeaks, the opposition parties created an uproar in both houses of Parliament, saying the appearance of the media reports had 'shamed' the country and it showed the 'murder of democracy.'
Responding to the attack, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was dismissive, saying the charges pertained to the 14th Lok Sabha and could not be discussed in the current one. Mukherjee asserted in the Rajya Sabha that the cables cited by WikiLeaks were correspondence between a sovereign government and its mission abroad and that he could not confirm or deny the allegations.
"Each Lok Sabha is sovereign in its time. What happened in the 14th Lok Sabha cannot be decided in the 15th Lok Sabha. The government of the day is accountable to the 15th Lok Sabha and not to the 14th Lok Sabha," he said.
He also asked whether Jaitley was satisfied that 'whatever has appeared in the newspaper report is admissible in a court of law.' "The communication between the US embassy and its government enjoys diplomatic immunity and it is not possible for the government to either confirm it or deny it," Mukherjee said amid the din.
Seeking clarification on Mukherjee's statement, Jaitley said, "If what has appeared (in the newspaper) is correct, it is a commission of offence in India." He said diplomatic immunity may be available to US diplomats but the same cannot be claimed for offences such as 'bribery' committed by Indians in the country.
Jaitley also disagreed with Mukherjee's contention on the issue of accountability of the then government to the present Lok Sabha. "All these factors do not apply when the offence was committed outside the House," he said.
"You are guilty of coverup," the Bharatiya Janata Party leader alleged, prompting a sharp reaction from Mukherjee, who retorted, "If you have the courage, go to court." Soon after, the House was adjourned till 2 pm in view of the uproar.
Earlier, Jaitley raised the issue when the house met, saying, "It is conclusively clear that this government survived on political and moral sin." Amid shouts of 'shame, shame' from the BJP benches, he said, "A government which survived on such a political sin has no authority to even continue for one minute. We demand this government must resign immediately."
Frequently interrupted by Congress members, Jaitley said, "The expose reflected the extraordinary depressing situation of how our democracy has been reduced. The leak completely establishes the worst that we had feared in 2008."
Leaders of all major parties including the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Communist Party of India, he Janata Dal-United and Biju Janata Dal joined Jaitley in demanding the resignation of the government forthwith. They also demanded the prime minister to come and explain.
In the Lok Sabha, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta raised the issue as soon as the House met. "Never in the history of Indian democracy has such a news appeared in newspapers... money was paid to members... this is a murder of democracy," Dasgupta said.
"If the prime minister does not deny this, he should resign immediately," he added. The CPI leader wondered "whether the control room of the government is in Delhi or in Washington?" Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said the expose has shamed Indian democracy.
Certain matters that took place right under the nose of a "so-called honest prime minister have come to light," she said. Swaraj recalled that three BJP members had brought cash to the house during the debate on the trust vote in 2008, but the then speaker had ordered an inquiry against them instead of taking cognisance of the matter.
"An official of the American embassy was shown a chest full of cash. Is this a display of the bullying tactics of the government or its shamelessness," Swaraj said, evoking protests from Congress members. "This government has lost the moral authority to continue in office and the prime minister should resign immediately," she said.
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav asked speaker Meira Kumar to allow a discussion on the matter, saying his party had also played a key role in saving the first term of the UPA government.
"We had also worked to save the government in 2008. If all are painted by the same brush, we also stand to be maligned. Only a discussion on this matter can clear our name," Yadav said.
At this point, members from both the opposition and ruling benches were on their feet raising slogans and prompting the speaker to adjourn the proceedings until noon. When the House re-assembled, similar scenes were witnessed.
The Left and the BJP were seen having a sort of floor coordination on the issue, with Dasgupta walking over twice to the BJP benches to tell its leadership not to allow their members to storm the well, but protest from their seats.
Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh, who has been adversely commented upon in the WikiLeaks report, was not seen in the house or his party members of Parliament.
JD-S chief Sharad Yadav termed the WikiLeaks expose as "very serious" and said, "Though we need to have good relations with the US, 19 of our (opposition) MPs were bought over, and it seems the transaction was done with the involvement of US embassy officials. It is just not possible that 19 MPs crossed the floor without any allurement."
"The US embassy in India is running the country. This is not good. WikiLeaks has exposed everything. It shows that every word reaches this embassy, "said Yadav, amid continuous interruptions by Congress members.
"The US is not our Lord Mountbatten. It looks as if they are telling us what to do," he said amidst shouts of 'shame, shame' from the opposition benches. Alleging that there could be no bigger attack on democracy than this, he wanted a high-level inquiry into the WikiLeaks expose.
The WikiLeaks report has vindicated the opposition which has all along been alleging that the MPs have been bought by the government to win the confidence vote and it could go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal, Yadav said.
Ramchandra Dome of the CPI-M said that the cash-for-vote scam was the "most shameful chapter of Indian democracy" and the "shameful revelations" have proved the opposition right.
He said whatever happened was a criminal offence and therefore, a criminal investigation should be instituted immediately. The prime minister, Dome said, should "own moral responsibility for all this." As Dome spoke, the opposition members stood up and raised the slogan 'PM isteefa do (prime minister must resign)'.
When deputy speaker Karia Munda, who was in the chair, asked Congress member Sanjay Nirupam to speak, almost the entire opposition stood up and protested vociferously. This forced adjournment of the House till 2pm.
As soon as the Lok Sabha reassembled at 2 pm, BJP members trooped into the well shouting slogans, demanding the prime minister's resignation. They were also seen shouting 'gali gali mein shor hai, UPA chor hai (the talk in the streets is that the UPA government is dishonest)'.
In the din, Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress was heard questioning the credibility of the WikiLeaks cables saying that it showed the bankruptcy of ideas in the opposition. "WikiLeaks has been rejected by all countries. It has no credibility or veracity," he said and took a jibe at the Left front members saying though they have never trusted the US, in this issue they are trusting them.
As the pandemonium went on Francisco Sardinha, who was in the chair, adjourned the House until 6 pm. Similar schemes were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha which was adjourned till 3 pm.
As the upper house reassembled, BJP members trooped into the well shouting that 'The Congress government is dishonest' following which Congress members also came into the well. Heated exchanges followed between several members of treasury and opposition benches.
P J Kurien, who was in the chair, adjourned the House till 11 am Friday, after his repeated requests to them to go back to their seats went unheeded.