This frame will remain frozen in the collective consciousness of a nation that switched on the television to watch Prime Minister Manmohan Singh face his first trust vote — three MPs waving wads of Rs 1,000 notes in Lok Sabha.
<b1>"Ahh ahh… what is this" is all Deputy Speaker Charanjit Atwal could mumble. It took him a few seconds to regain his composure and adjourn the House. By nightfall and after hours of pandemonium that shook the nation, the "bribe money" was kept in the Lok Sabha secretary general's office for the night. Officials said it would eventually be confiscated by the government.
At 4.05 pm on Tuesday, even as Atwal was trying to persuade an MP to conclude his speech, BJP MPs Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora rushed towards him. They placed a black leather bag, on a table near him, zipped it open and began placing wads of currency notes on the Lok Sabha secretary general's table.
"This is the advance that was paid to a BJP MP to abstain from voting," one of them shouted. By then, others had other trooped into the Well of the House, shouting, "shame shame." The trio continued to take wads of notes out from another beige-coloured bag.
The MPs said this was the first instalment of the Rs 3 crore promised to each of them by leader Amar Singh to stay away. "I am warning the three BJP MPs. They’ll have to go to jail for defaming me,” said Singh.
Atwal came out of his chambers after 15 minutes, only to adjourn the House again for half an hour, and then again till 6 pm. Fifteen minutes were clearly not enough for the presiding officer and leaders of major political parties huddled at a meeting to figure out the next step after the incident that Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee later described as "very unfortunate."
The cash was supposedly part of a television sting operation and a CNN-IBN cameraman has visuals of the money being handed over to Morena MP Ashok Argal at his Ferozeshah Road residence. The TV channel did not broadcast the tapes, handing them over to the Speaker.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has promised parliament that he would take action but did not spell it out. An official said Chatterjee would hold detailed consultations with secretariat officials and legal experts on Wednesday on his next step.
There are two aspects to the episode on which a decision needs to be taken, he said.
One relates to seeking investigations by the police or CBI into the bribery charges. In this case, the CBI would take over the money as case property. The second relates to the act of MPs bringing bags of money into the House and putting them on the table without the Chair's permission. If a view is taken that this action has, prima facie, lowered the dignity of the House, the Speaker could ask the committee on privileges to inquire into this.
The Congress leadership including president Sonia Gandhi and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee seemed to have been taken by surprise.
Realising that attack was the best form of defence, Railway minister Lalu Prasad trooped into the Well, followed by his MPs, asking the BJP MPs to explain from where they got this money.