July 22, 2008 was not just another day in Parliament’s history. The atmosphere was surcharged, the galleries were full and Lok Sabha was packed even before the clock struck 11.
A special session had been called to decide the fate of the UPA-I government because the Left had withdrawn support in protest against the Indo-US nuclear deal.
As speaker Somnath Chatterjee slumped into his chair, there was speculation whether he would preside over the House or step down as demanded by his party, the CPM. But as he signalled the debate to begin, it was clear he wasn’t accepting his party’s diktat to quit.
Member after member went on either hammering the UPA or singing praises in favour of the PM. Almost 3 hours passed.
Then, at 4.30pm, three BJP MPs — Mahavir Bhagora, Ashok Ragal and Faggan Singh Kulaste — made a dramatic entry carrying a bag. They began emptying bundles of currency notes, saying Rs 1 crore was given to them by SP leader Amar Singh as “advance” for abstaining from the trust vote.
Amid uproar, the BJP MPs claimed the episode was taped as they had wanted to expose the “means” employed to win over Opposition MPs.
As the House plunged into pandemonium, Chatterjee adjourned proceedings. Leaders of all parties gathered in his chamber. After an hour, the House was back in session.
The mood on either side more tense than before. In the din by BJP members demanding the PM’s resignation and shouting down his speech, Manmohan Singh laid his reply to the debate on the table of the House.
As Opposition members pressed for a division, Chatterjee ordered voting.
At 8.26pm, he announced the results — UPA: 275, opposition: 256. Eleven MPs did not vote.
Amid their jubilation, the Congress members and allies were very upset that the BJP had “stooped” to display currency notes. The BJP ones were happy with their “stunning effect” to show that the UPA may have won the numbers game but not a moral victory.