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How to win back trust

It would serve the government to convince its critics that it doesn’t tolerate corruption.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2011 20:32 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated in Parliament on Wednesday that “we were not involved in any illegal act nor had we authorised anybody to indulge in any bribe given during 2008 confidence vote”. It is now his job to convince his critics, both within the BJP and the Left as well as those outside the jousting grounds of politics, that that is indeed the case. The UPA in general and Mr Singh in particular should not see such a demand as an affront to the government’s or the prime minister’s moral authority. Surely this government must admit that over the last few months, it has eroded some of its credibility. So for people to believe its innocence in unsavoury matters such as scams at face value would hardly be something that a democratic government would expect of its people.

There are two red herrings floating about and these have to be removed in any procedure that can help to get to the bottom of one single thing: were parliamentarians offered bribes in the July 2008 confidence vote in exchange of votes? The first non-issue is the one regarding the source of the allegation, American diplomatic cables. It really doesn’t matter whether the source of the information to be verified is American or Martian. The issue involves alleged goings-on in the Indian Parliament reportedly indulged in by Indians and that is enough for us to take matters gravely. The second issue involves the timing of the ‘resurfacing’ of the contentious subject. The 2008 ‘cash-for-votes’ matter was first looked into by a parliamentary committee headed by Congress Lok Sabha member Kishore Chandra Deo, and the subsequent report was prepared on the then available evidence.

Mr Deo himself confirmed last week that the report was “not yet a closed chapter”. So even though the recent WikiLeaks may not be treated as evidence in any court of law, it can be used as ‘leads’ by investigative agencies to resuscitate an incomplete probe.

Mr Singh had castigated the Opposition in Parliament last week “for raising old charges that had been debated, discussed and rejected by the people of India”. If by this he meant that the electoral mandate given by the people of India in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls was a certificate of innocence given to the UPA government that had been accused in 2008 of winning a confidence vote over the India-US nuclear deal by bribing MPs, he may be walking a slippery slope. Going by that logic, the 2002 Gujarat assembly elections can be seen as a clean chit given by an electorate to a ruling government accused of indulging in state-sanctioned communal violence. One doesn’t know whether parties within the UPA will be adversely affected by the litany of scams they have been tainted with in the forthcoming state elections. But it is certain that the mystery of the ‘cash-for-votes’ must be resolved for the sake of India’s polity. Surely the UPA government would go out of its way now to ensure that a probe is conducted to its logical conclusion that will only confirm what Mr Singh already knows to be the truth.