NEW DELHI: The 2008 ‘cash-for-votes’ scam today returned to haunt the UPA with a united Opposition in Parliament demanding 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 US Embassy and its government revealed by the Wikileaks, the Opposition parties created 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 the Wikileaks website 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…
Government of the day is accountable to the 15th Lok Sabha and not to the 14th Lok Sabha. Whatever happened in the 14th Lok Sabha has come to an end" with the end of the tenure, he said.
He also asked whether Jaitley was satisfied that "whatever has appeared in newspaper report is admissible in the 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 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 the diplomatic immunity may be available to the US diplomats but the same cannot be claimed for offences like "bribery" committed by Indians in the country.
Jaitley also disagreed with Mukherjee’s contention on the issue of accountability of then government (UPA-1) 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 cover," the BJP 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 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 how our democracy has been reduced…. The leak completely establishes the worst that we had feared at that time (2008)."
Leaders of all major parties including CPI-M, CPI, JD(U) and BJD joined Jaitley in demanding the resignation of the government forthwith. They also demanded Prime Minister to come and explain.
In the din, the House was adjourned till noon.
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 said.
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 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.
SP 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 UPA-I 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 till noon.
When the House re-assembled, similar scenes were witnessed.(PTI)