Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj led a united opposition attack on PM Manmohan Singh over the cash-for-votes scam in the wake of the WikiLeaks’ account of US diplomatic communication.
Her blitzkreig was countered by two union ministers — Pawan Kumar Bansal and Kapil Sibal — who charged the BJP with a sinister plan to destabilised the government with the “TV sting” on the scam.
As Lok Sabha debated the PM’s statement of March 18, Swaraj wondered how the PM could wash his hands of the matter as he had headed the government in 2008 and was the “biggest beneficiary” of the trust vote. Swaraj, amid interruptions by Congress MPs demanded a CBI probe into the expose, saying those named in the WikiLeaks cable should be a part of an FIR.
“Nobody tells you anything? This is why I have given notice for Breach of Privilege Motion.” Swaraj said bribe was paid and asked who its beneficiary
was, whose government was saved and who had to remain the PM.
Parliamentary affairs minister Bansal said, “You consider it the truth... Whenever you have attacked the PM, he has emerged stronger because he has that kind of personality.”
Bansal said Swaraj had the knack of raising issues without basis. The problem in BJP was of “just ping-pong” (referring to turf war between Jaitley and Swaraj).
He also referred to a parliamentary panel recommending probe against Sudheendra Kulkarni, former close aide of BJP leader LK Advani in the cash-for-vote scam.
But it was telecom minister Kapil Sibal who effectively sought to turn tables on the BJP forcefully. He recalled an interview by Jaswant Singh to a news magazine in 2009 in which he had blamed Advani for being behind the cash-for-vote scam. “If we can’t believe Advaniji, how can we believe WikiLeaks?” Sibal said amid protests by opposition benches.
Repeatedly countering him, Yashwant Sinha (BJP) said the government had no “moral right” to continue in power.
Rattan Singh Ajnala (SAD)raised a storm by accusing a Congress MP of trying to woo his party MPs in 2008 and insisted that it was time to accept that some MPs were bribed. His remarks evoked sharp response from the Congress members.
CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, who initiated the debate, accused the PM of resorting to “parliamentary piracy” to win the vote of confidence in 2008.
In Rajya Sabha, Union home minister P Chidambaram and leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley locked horns in a brilliant display of legal acumen and oratory that lifted the debate on cash-for-vote allegations above the ordinary.
Combining wit, sarcasm and legal arguments, Chidambaram effectively countered the offensive built by Jaitley against the government, as both crossed swords repeatedly during the 45 minutes that the home minister spoke.
Jaitely was generally not interrupted by the treasury benches except once when Jayanthi Natarajan asked him whether he was aware of the latest revelations on the sting operation on bribery allegations during the 2008 trust vote.
The debate on the WikiLeaks reference to bribery allegations in the run-up to the July 2008 confidence vote sought by the first UPA government went on for three hours. “This is Parliament yet I acknowledge the fact that we cannot forget he (Jaitley) is a lawyer and, therefore, try to prove a case that does not exist, produce evidence which should be rejected by the junior-most magistrate in the country,” the home minister said, prompting laughter on the treasury sides and disruptions by the BJP.
Chidambaram’s challenge to the opposition that they had selectively read the report of the parliamentary committee, which probed the bribery allegations, drew a sharp response. Jaitley interrupted, saying: “I am sorry. I am not drawing a different conclusion. You are not choosing to read the document. Chidambaram shot back “I have read more paragraphs than you wanted me to read.”
Moments later, when Chidambaram made a reference to the latest issue of the Tehelka weekly magazine without naming it, which states the BJP had engineered the cash-for-vote scam, Jaitley interrupted to say the home minister was overseeing the Delhi Police that is investigating the allegations and alleged a conflict of interest.
To which, Chidambaram replied: “I would like to remind the statement of Lord Denning– the police owes obedience to no man. Its obedience is to the law.”
Earlier, initiating the discussion, Jaitley alleged that UPA-I was short of majority in 2008 following withdrawal of support by the Left parties, which it made up by “procurement” of MPs. “Bribes and inducements were offered (to MPs) to cross- vote, bribes paid to MPs were video recorded. This shortage in majority was made up by retail purchase of parliamentarians,” Jaitley said.